Wildlife Conservation Community Program
Kenai, Alaska is home to hundreds of hungry bears, both the relatively innocuous black variety and the more frightening subspecies of brown bear, the grizzly. Interactions between humans and grizzlies are dangerous for both species. During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the number of grizzlies killed by cars or guns doubled in the Kenai area.
The main reason for these negative bear interactions was the careless storage or disposal of food. The city has what are known as “bear highways,” where bears know they can find garbage, bird seed, dog food, fish carcasses or fish in smokers or livestock feed.
A pilot project called the Bear-Safe Neighborhood project was organized by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation, Alaska Audubon, Waste Management, Inc. and the City of Kenai with the program’s main emphasis on reducing bear problems due to improper garbage storage and other human-caused attractions. Property owners were provided free garbage pickup for two years if they agreed to use bear-resistant garbage containers supplied to them. During the first two years, there were no reported negative interactions with bears in an area that had been formerly plagued with many problems.
In 2006, the pilot project was expanded from two boroughs to include the whole city and named the Wildlife Conservation Community Program (WCCP). Additional grant funds were used to purchase and mail 5,000 newsprint versions of “Living in Harmony with Bears” to every resident within the municipal boundaries of Kenai based on the belief that a well-informed public is one of the most important ingredients for conserving brown bears.
Volunteers from non-profit agencies as well as state and local enforcement agencies went door to door handing out information on the WCCP, answering questions and assuring that residents understood that equipment was being made available. To further support and strengthen the effectiveness of the WCCP’s objectives, the city adopted a Bear Problem Area and Emergency Bear Declaration ordinance in 2008.
The ordinance requires garbage to be kept in bear resistant containers in areas of the town where bears are a consistent problem and is used by the police department and other agencies to inform residents of the danger and to require bear resistant containers in areas designated as “Bear Problem Area(s).”
The resulting effect is safer neighborhoods for people and bears; less agency time spent dealing with bears in neighborhoods; and better stewardship of our public trust wildlife resources. The success of the Wildlife Conservation Community Program has generated an interest from other Alaska municipalities and in Crested Butte, Colorado.