Written by Bill Wood, State Biologist, AlaskaLet’s say you’ve just awakened from a restless 6-month nap. You check on the kids and it seems like everyone is really hungry. On your way to the grocery store you pass a chicken take-out joint and the smell of those fryers is irresistible. With kids in tow, you perambulate into the unattended shop; by all appearances, it seems you may have discovered the proverbial “free lunch.” Who could say no?
This happens for scores of mammas and pappas all over the Kenai Peninsula every spring—mamma and pappa bears, that is. And it’s not just chicken on the menu. Equally delectable items like dog food, honey and fish, not to mention livestock feed, a wide variety of human foods and other attractive items draw hungry bears that are just following their natural instincts. Bears spend as much as 80 percent of their waking day feeding or foraging for food. So when they’re rewarded for their efforts with a fairly easy meal and experience no negative repurcussions, they can quickly become habituated to that attraction.
Bears can be destructive and these situations can potentially be dangerous for all involved. Chicken coops, beehives, smokehouses and the like can quickly become demolition sites with lost equipment, money, time and effort. Sometimes encounters between humans and bears don’t turn out so well for the people, but they never turn out well for the bear. People can be proactive in reducing the potential for these kinds of human-bear encounters in a few important and sensible ways.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) helps provide solutions for issues like this one. WHIP’s cost-share funding assistance is used to improve a wide variety of wildlife habitat conditions and help reduce negative impacts to wildlife species on private land.
For the 2011 fiscal year, NRCS has developed a new initiative available to landowners only on the Kenai Peninsula. The new project idea seeks to reduce potential up-close-and-personal interactions between people and bears at sites of human-induced bear attractants and provides matching funding to landowners to install permanent electric bear fencing. This type of fencing is an effective technique to exclude bears from areas where they should not seek food.
After receiving their first shock, many bears seem to sense the electrical charge in the fence lines and avoid those fences. When the fences are properly designed, even their appearance can remind bears of their previous unpleasant encounter.
NRCS, in cooperation with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will also provide fence designs and site management plans and recommendations for the installation of the fences. Site inventory and assessment is part of the technical assistance landowners will receive, in addition to help with purchase and installation costs.
To find out more about the program contact the NRCS Kenai Field Office at (907) 283-8732, the NRCS Homer Field Office at (907) 235-8177, or the office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kenai at (907) 262-9368.
A mamma grizzly on the hunt for food in Alaska.