New policy is a living document and can change backers say
The Valdez City Council approved a new bear management plan Monday night during its regular meeting.
The new policy comes with a mission statement: The Valdez Bear Working Group will develop a Bear Management Plan that strives to create and maintain a sustainable relationship between humans and bears.
The group, which includes state, city and industry officials that deal with Valdez bear issues, has been meeting and putting the plan together for at least three years.
“This is a work in progress,” John Hozey, city manager, told council before the new plan was approved. “This is a first shot at it.”
Bears are a fact of life in Valdez, especially during the summer months. While many of the town’s black bears and browns bears forage for berries, eat spring grasses and berries before fattening up during the salmon runs, others turn to easy meals from garbage cans, dumpsters and other delicacies left behind by careless humans. These tasty temptations include salmon smokers, dog food, picnic coolers and even bird feeders.
The bears lose their natural fear of humans; police and animal control officials are then put in the awkward position of having to trap, then shoot the bears.
Perhaps even more alarming is the number of tourists that often crowd feeding brown bears on Dayville Road at Allison Point, near the fish hatchery.
The new policy aims to reduce the number of bears destroyed by better educating the public and changing trash policies within the city among other strategies.
“Continued interaction between bears and human settlement is inevitable,” the policy said. “Managing bear and human behavior in our community is a very complex task.”
The policy does strive to recognize this fact, as did the council members voting to pass the policy.
“We do have ordinances that are violated constantly,” council member Chris Moulton said before the vote.
Each year, many of the bears put down by city law enforcement were attracted to residential neighborhoods because residents do not properly contain trash and other bear attractants.
“Focus first on making bear‐proof waste management moreeasily available in neighborhoods for residents who have nomeans to transport their garbage,” the policy said. “In February, 2013 residential, curbside garbage collection was reduced from twice weekly to one pick‐up per week. This eliminates human attractants one day a week in each residential subdivision.”
The city’s solid waste department has also invested funds to bear proof dumpsters for the upcoming summer bear season.
The new policy will strive to eliminate those types of enticements and others by working towards attaining a “Bear Smart” designation, which the policy states is “a framework that guides a community toward sustainable co-existence with humans and bears.”
This includes addressing tourists that are seen crowding bears around salmon streams, especially the brown bears that frequent Dayville Road near Allison Point and the hatchery managed by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association, VFDA.
“I think it’s a balanced approach,” council member Mike Wells said. Wells is also employed by VFDA and was involved in developing the new plan.
The plan calls for prioritizing bear management goals in the community.
This includes a public education program for residents and tourists, enforcing codes against bear attractants, bear proofing city dumpsters, and managing bear watchers, especially on Dayville Road.
The plan has long-term goals that will require training city employees and possibly citizen volunteers for the educational component.
Valdez has not had a reported bear mauling in recent years, but each summer many close calls are reported to law enforcement.
The policy also contains information on state policy regarding bears, which has sometimes resulted in conflict with state officials and Valdez bear lovers.
“Obtaining a permit to trap and kill nuisance bears is relatively easy for a Department of PublicSafety, but relocating bears is another issue and requires careful consideration,” an appendix to the plan says. “Nuisance bears often return to resume their bad behavior and may be difficult to trap again. If not marked appropriately it can be difficult to determine if a bear returns, which masks how much staff time has been spent on a particular problem bear. Alternately, a translocated bear may resume their bad habits in their new location, and both VPD and ADF&G can be held liable for relocated bears that maul or kill somebody. If drugged and relocated bears are not marked, a bear could be shot and eaten by a hunter well before the required drug withdrawal time, a potential health risk. Therefore it is the policy of AFG&G that every drugged bear must be marked.”
State officials have allowed a limited number of nuisance brown bears to be relocated from Valdez after concerned citizens and officials have jumped through bureaucratic hoops and secured private funding for the efforts. Two orphaned black bear cubs had also been allowed to be relocated to a Texas animal sanctuary a few years back, but such efforts to relocate the plentiful black bears are rarely successful.
Bear committee members also hope to implement safe bear viewing areas within the city, a move that could take many years to develop.