Drop in bear activity could be linked to new roll carts

Alicia Schuh’s car was damaged by a bear in search of French fries that had been dropped on the floor.

No Kodiak summer would be complete without frequent reports of dumpster dives and vehicle break-ins by bears, but this year such activity has been more sparse, possibly due to the distribution of bear-proof roll carts. 

Bear activity in town “has been minor,” said Nathan Svoboda, an area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “With the recent changes in the way we handle our solid waste, I think that helps quite a bit.” 

He was referring to the removal of roll carts from some areas of town, and the replacement of regular roll carts with bear-resistant roll carts earlier this month in some areas around town known for high bear activity. 

However, he noted that with the typical increase in bear activity later in the year, the fall season will be better to gauge how effective the roll carts actually are in decreasing interactions between bears and humans in town. 

“In both the spring and fall we usually have quite a bit of bear activity in town, particularly earlier in the year when there is not a lot of natural foods available for them,” Svoboda said. 

In January, three bears were shot over the course of five days within the city of Kodiak, but overall Svoboda has seen fewer incidents of bears coming into town. 

“We’ve had a few incidents of bears in and around town. There was a bear the other day who was opening car doors,” he said. “And then we had a bear that was shot in defense of life and property that was getting into a chicken coop out in (Bells) Flats.”

Although bear activity has been minimal this year, Monashka Circle residents have reportedly had several cars broken into by bears this month. 

Over time, bears have learned that cars often have leftover food and garbage inside — easy food sources for them to access. However, during some of the recent car break-ins, residents reported there was no garbage or packages of food in their vehicles. 

About one week ago, Monashka resident Shanna Rockenbach’s car was broken into early in the morning. She found dried mud, paw prints, saliva and scratches all over the inside of her car. 

Rockenbach said a bear has been making a loop and walking from the landfill on Monashka Bay Road to residences on Monashka Circle. 

Another Monashka resident was not so lucky. With her car locked, a bear broke one of her windows to access the car’s hidden treats. 

“My son had spilled a couple of French fries from McDonald’s on the floor board,” Alicia Schuh, the car’s owner, wrote on a post in the Bear Aware Facebook group. “That’s all it takes. I didn’t even know they were there until we went out to inspect.” 

More bear activity has been spotted farther outside city limits as salmon spill into rivers and summertime sport fishing ramps up. 

Bears have been spotted trying to steal fish from sport fishermen, primarily in the Buskin and Saltery rivers, Svoboda said. Two cases have been reported so far this season. 

“Instead of cutting their line or letting their fish go downstream, what people mistakenly do sometimes is give their fish to the bear,” Svoboda said. 

He said that by giving their fish to bears — instead of cutting their line and letting the fish flow downstream, or throwing their fish dead or alive back into the water — fishermen are conditioning bears to approach them. 

To decrease bear interactions with people, Svoboda urged fishermen to properly dispose of fish waste and, if possible, take their fish back to their cars or to secure locations so as not to attract bears. 

Svoboda also urged people to be aware of how they handle their solid waste. He advised residents to not put out their roll carts early in the evening, to close dumpsters and roll carts completely, and to avoid leaving garbage on top of or next to the garbage receptacles.  Other attractants people often forget about are clothes that smell like fish, dog food, or food for livestock and bird feeders. 

“A lot of fishermen are coming back into town from being out. That stuff should be washed or hung appropriately so it doesn't attract bears,” he said, adding that people should also put bird feeders away. “Keep a clean and scent-free environment as much as possible.” 

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