Humans in Alaska are required to stay home as much as possible these days but global pandemics and government mandates have no say over wildlife. As daylight lengthens, snow melts and nature edges toward spring, bears might soon show up in a social distance near you.
“They are definitely starting to come out. We haven’t had too many reports yet. I believe it would have been about a week and a half ago we had a black bear report here in Soldotna,” said Jacob Pelham, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna. “It wasn’t necessarily getting into trouble, it was just probably coming out of its den and walking around looking for food. So people just need to keep that in mind, that this is definitely the time of year right now that bears are going to be coming out and looking for snacks.”
This is the time of year people need to reduce bear attractants around their homes. Put away the bird feeders, don’t leave pet or livestock food out where it’s accessible. And secure small livestock, for that matter. Most importantly, clean up your garbage.
“Trash management. People tend to toss trash out on their porch or whatever in the middle of wintertime because it may be cold. Definitely trash management in the spring and summer is imperative,” Pelham said.
Fish and Game was going to hold a series of community workshops in March about how to live in harmony with bears but those were canceled due to social distancing requirements. Instead, Pelham is freshening up the bear awareness resources on Fish and Game’s website, www.adfg.gov.
There’s also a rebate program where homeowners can get up to $500 back on the purchase of electric fencing. Rebates are offered through the Defenders of Wildlife Alaska organization. More information is available at www.defenders.org/got-grizzlies.
Bears aren’t the only critters to be careful of this time of year. Moose require caution, too. Though they’re usually fairly docile during the winter, moose are stressed in the spring. Cows are heavily pregnant, older calves are on their own after being run off by mom and they’re all generally hungry and tired of winter.
“Moose tend to get more grumpy this time of year because they’re running out of food, they’re tired of the snow. Just like everyone else is tired of walking around in the snow and moving the snow, they are, as well. So they are less tolerant of people being in their space,” Pelham said.
Moose can be particularly problematic if they’ve been fed over the winter. Like bears, moose can easily because habituated to humans providing easy meals. That can be an issue when the meal train is derailed.
“Whenever a fed moose is fed once it loses its fear of humans and it comes up to the people and can actually get territorial and hurt somebody at that point if the food is not given or if the person is not quick enough at delivering that food as they had been in the past,” Pelham said.
Some moose are getting skinny this time of year. If a property owner has a hungry-looking moose hanging around their property and is concerned it might not make it to greenup, Pelham suggests cutting down a tree so the moose can reach upper branches that weren’t accessible before. Willow, birch and aspen are natural browse and won’t habituate the moose to handouts. Any other intervention is dangerous and illegal. Fines for negligently feeding wildlife start at $300 and escalate for repeat offenders or instances of egregious feeding.
The Fish and Game office in Soldotna is still open but has moved most functions online or over the phone. Spring bear hunting season starts April 1. Hunters can now register a bear-baiting station with Fish and Game over the phone. Fur sealing can still be done in person but you need to call and make an appointment to avoid too many people at the office at once. The Soldotna office can be reached at 262-9368.