To the editor: I was saddened to read that three bears were recently shot to death. They were dubbed ‘problem bears’ that were killed “because they have become habituated to human food and were therefore a danger to public safety,” said ADF&G wildlife biologist Nate Svoboda in the Jan. 23 issue of the Kodiak Daily Mirror. I won’t argue that the bears weren’t a danger to public safety, but this was a terrible situation that did not have to happen. 

I was also saddened to see not one, but two photographs showing a measuring tape stretched across a bear paw, as if it was some sort of victory to take down large bears.

Some of you might be thinking that the bears got what they had coming to them. But the bears aren’t the problem. We are, because a fed bear is a dead bear. I didn’t come up with that phrase. I heard it while visiting friends in Mammoth Lakes, California, a community in the Easter Sierra that has successfully learned to live with bears.

Mammoth Lakes has Steve Searles, who works full time as a wildlife specialist for the city of Mammoth Lakes. Searles has helped develop and perfect many of the bear hazing techniques that are being used by law enforcement across the country and in other countries as well.

Steve believes it’s a matter of training, both the people and the bears. “You simply can’t feed bears, or leave food out and expect them not to associate that with humans.”

My friends in Mammoth Lakes pointed out some of the guidelines residents are told to follow, including responsibly taking care of trash, removing food or scented products such as hand lotions from vehicles (bears around the area are very adept at opening car doors), storing pet food properly, and tending to bird feeders: Feed only seed and attach a trash can lid or other tray to keep spills from hitting the ground.

Here’s something else that residents are encouraged to do: Spray ammonia based household cleaner inside cans or bins to deter bears.

Kodiak prides itself as being home to coastal brown bears. People travel here from around the world to see these magnificent creatures. Yet we don’t do enough to protect this iconic creature from humans.

I’d like to see Kodiak lead by example, whereby the community and all enforcement agencies would cooperatively work together to inform and educate residents and visitors on a continual basis. Posting an occasional “bear aware” sign and threatening violators with $50 fines ($500 or $5,000 is more like it) is not enough. As Searles says, “It’s a matter of training, both the people and the bears.”

We can do this, Kodiak!

Marion Owen

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