by Kelley Lane for Seward City News-
Seward has experienced unusually high levels of black bear activity in the past few weeks. Residents have reported seeing animals in most parts of the Seward city limits, especially in the subdivision of Forest Acres. Just two weeks ago, a black bear walked into a local hotel, the Breeze Inn. The bear activity around town has continued. In the past few weeks, the Facebook group known as ‘Seward, Alaska Neighborhood Wildlife Watch’ has registered more than a dozen postings of bears in people’s backyards, on neighborhood roads, leaving footprints, and knocking over garbage cans.
Last week’s Police Journals, from September 2nd to 11th, reported 17 separate calls for bear activity in town. Most of these reports were of wandering bears that were not interacting with humans or pets. Bear activity was especially common in the harbor area and surrounding buildings and parking lots. In another incident, the staff at Seward’s Mountain Haven, a long term care facility located near the base of Mount Benson, “requested an Officer to move a bear from the area so [patients and staff] can safely move between lodges.”
This raises the question of how Seward has been dealing with the recent bear activity in town.
Trevan Walker, the Principal at Seward High School (SHS) said that he’s “had to make a couple of announcements about bears on school property” over the last couple of weeks and has called the police a few times. Walker explained that students in Seward are accustomed to being “bear aware” and know how to modify their behavior in order to avoid unwanted bear encounters. Walker often finds that it’s enough to tell Seward students that animals are around, and they will act accordingly. Other times, he reminds them to walk in groups and make noise when outside.
During typical years, Principal Walker has made more announcements about moose around the school than bears. This year, things are different. This past Tuesday, when driving to work, Walker noticed that all the trash cans had been turned over on Benson Drive, one of the main routes to reach the school, which is perched on a bench on Mount Benson. Walker is not concerned, although he did say that “bear activity this year has been higher than normal.”
Another local Sewardite, Steve Fink, who owns Seward City News, mentioned some of his concerns. Bear activity has changed his family’s behavior. “We live next to the Elementary school and even though we are spitting distance, we opted for the first time to have our kids take the bus home instead of walking. Lots of sightings in our neighborhood and people are on edge.” Fink is no stranger to wildlife, having lived in Seward for nearly two decades. His sentiment mirrored what I’ve been hearing around town. Sewardites are accustomed to seeing bears around in the wilderness, and even in town, just not as often as has been happening this fall.
In talking with one local person a few weeks ago, I learned that Seward had a grant about a decade ago that subsidized the cost of bear proof trash cans. She wondered aloud if it was time to pursue such a grant again. Mark Luttrell, who was on the board of Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance (RBCA) at the time, said “we got a grant to pay for a big load of [bear proof garbage cans] and then sold them for $30.” This allowed Sewardites to obtain these cans for a reasonable cost and protected the bears from getting garbage. I personally know of at least one person who still uses their can which was obtained through this program, and I see many such cans around town. According to Luttrell, who is not currently on the board but remains involved, RBCA “might be willing to pursue such a grant in the future.” The grant was funded predominantly through “US Fish and Wildlife Service (provided $108,150 in grant funding) and Conoco Phillips (provided $35,000).” At present, Alaska Waste will rent bear resistant garbage cans to Seward households for $2 per month, which is one of the lasting impacts of the Wildlife Conservation Community Program operated through RBCA. For more information about the program, please visit: http://www.rbca-alaska.org/page6/page28/page28.html.
In the coming weeks, we are likely to continue to see bears around Seward. We may also see bears injured or killed. This morning, I saw a post on the Seward, Alaska Neighborhood Wildlife Watch from Marissa Lapinskas who described finding a black bear on the outside of her yard’s fence. “A black bear was dying next to our fence. Called the cops. It was shot. We were asked if we heard any shots fired, we did not.” Lapinskas noted that this incident took place in the Forest Acres subdivision. There were many comments following her post, but it’s unclear how and why the bear had been injured.