Bears make the most of their last month out

September means many things to me. It means a mad dash to pick berries and mushrooms before they dwindle away. It means duck dinners and evenings plucking birds with my family. It means changing my bike tires to studs when I feel the slick first frost. Bears feel the change in the air too and they know that every pound they can pack on makes it more likely that this winter won’t be their last.  

Our backyards are often full of wild foods and are often right next to good bear habitat, but neighborhood trash and other attractants can keep bears from moving on. Leaving trash accessible to bears is like leaving cookies on your counter and trusting your dog to leave them alone while you’re gone. Most dogs can’t resist temptation, just like bears can’t resist easy meals. Leaving out garbage and other attractants is bad for bears and people alike.  

As with previous years, the Cordova Police Department (CPD), the Alaska Wildlife Troopers (AWT), and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) are collaborating on how bear-related calls are handled. Our strategy is proactive – and it focuses on trash. 

When bears find food around homes, they often hang around looking for more and can become very comfortable around people. It’s important to realize that just because a bear does not immediately run when it sees a human, does not mean it’s a safety threat. Bears are very curious and often observe us while hidden from our sight. Bears will breeze through town, and some will not inherently observe our invisible property lines (since most of us don’t have fences).  

Fed bears, however, can be hazardous to people, pets and property, and usually end up being killed. Inadequately protected poultry or improperly stored trash is bad for the neighborhood, not just the individual property owner. Also, creating a situation where anyone feels the need to shoot at a bear in an urban setting, is an unacceptable hazard.  


If you encounter a bear you believe presents a public safety threat, please call CPD or AWT. Keep in mind though, that the mere presence of a bear does not constitute a public safety concern. If you see a bear that is not a public safety concern but believe ADF&G should know about it (perhaps it’s getting into trash or other improperly stored bear attractants), please give us a call. Posting on the Cordova Bear Watch Facebook page can result in fear mongering, poor legal advice, and it’s not monitored by any of the entities that can help if needed.  

Law enforcement responding to bear calls involving improperly stored trash or other attractants may issue citations for “intentionally or negligently” feeding bears. This can mean a $320 fine. If you are not present to clean up the mess, you can also be cited for littering, which can carry a hefty fine. In most cases, officers will not haze bears because it creates erratic behavior, and it won’t likely have a         lasting impact on a compensated bear. Trapping and relocation are not options as bears are amazingly good at finding their way back. If it’s determined that a bear has become a public safety risk, it has drawn a death sentence. How can we best avoid risks to public safety and needlessly killing bears? Prevention. 

Following are some reminders on how to handle bear attractants to keep bears away from our homes:  

  • GARBAGE: Securely store all garbage inside a building or shed or in a bear-resistant container. Trash cannot be put outside until 6 a.m. the morning of your garbage pickup. City utility customers can take trash to the baler during business hours (Monday-Saturday, 7 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.).  
  • FISH WASTE: Use designated fish cleaning stations and dispose of waste in flowing or ocean water. Do not leave it high and dry! At home, separate and freeze fish waste or other stinky bits of garbage until garbage day.  
  • BIRDSEED: Bears love birdseed. Take down all birdfeeders April 15 through Oct. 31 and clean up spilled seed too.  
  • GRILLS: Clean grills by scraping and burning off residual food after cooking. Empty the grease trap or bring it inside after each use. If possible, store your grill inside a garage or shed when not in use.  
  • FISH SMOKERS: Smoking fish attracts bears. Do not leave your smoker unattended. Consider using an electric fence. 
  • PET FOOD: If you feed your pets outside, be sure to bring in any uneaten food inside when they are done. Failing to do so may result in a dog fight with a brown bear. Bears love dog food even more than dogs do!  
  • LIVESTOCK: Bears do occasionally kill and eat livestock, especially ducks, chickens and rabbits. Use an electric fence around livestock enclosures to keep bears out. Getting zapped by an electric fence won’t kill the bear, but it will be a shocking experience the bear won’t want to repeat!  
  • LIVESTOCK FOOD: Bears will eat anything you feed your livestock. Secure all feed inside a building or in a bear-resistant container.  

If all measures above are taken, human-bear conflicts can be dramatically reduced.  

State law allows bears to be killed in defense of life or property, if you did not provoke an attack or cause a problem by negligently leaving human or pet food or garbage in a manner that attracts bears and if you have done everything else you can to protect your life and property.  

If possible, call AWT or CPD first. If officers are unable to respond and lethal means is the only alternative, shoot to kill; a wounded bear only aggravates an already dangerous situation. Also, remember that shooting in an urban setting is dangerous and illegal unless the situation is truly dire. Remember, if a bear has been attracted to your home or camp by improperly stored food or garbage, it cannot be legally killed. Illegally killing a bear could result in any or all of the following: a citation for discharging a firearm within city limits, a citation for taking a bear without a harvest ticket, and a citation for feeding wildlife.  

When a bear is killed in defense of life or property, call AWT or ADF&G and report it immediately. All bears killed in defense of life or property must be skinned with claws and evidence of sex attached and the skull removed and then immediately turned over to ADF&G.  

If you see a bear getting into trash or other bear attractants, call ADF&G at 424-3215. ADF&G has an electric fence that can be used by the public. If you’re curious about what an electric fence can do in your specific situation, please call us or see the Fish and Game website for lots of good information: Electric Fences as Bear Deterrents, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 

Seasons change and I’m glad for it. In about a month, most bears will be sleeping their way through the fat layer they built, and I’ll be dreaming of snow. In the meantime, let’s do our best to keep a tidy operation. It’s safer for us, better for the neighborhood and better for bears. Being bear aware is just another way to show our neighbors how much we care. 

For more information about bears, bear attractants and electric fences, go to  

Charlotte Westing is a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Prince William Sound Area.