JUNEAU, Alaska – A larger than normal number of young bears and dwindling natural food supply for them are forcing the animals to head for Juneau's garbage with unusual frequency, a wildlife official said.
A poor berry crop and lackluster salmon runs this year mean more bears are looking for food among the city's trash, KTOO Public Media in Juneau reported.
Conditions have made bears desperate to fatten themselves before they hibernate for the winter, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said.
Abby McAllister, a wildlife education and outreach specialist with the agency, said more bears are competing for the smaller amount of available food.
A better berry crop and decent fish runs last year meant more new cubs survived the winter.
Those young bears have recently been kicked out by their mothers and need to fend for themselves, but are still inexperienced, McAllister said.
“They’re kind of like a teenager on their own for the first time just trying to figure out things," she said. "They make a lot of mistakes along the way.”
There have been 687 bear-related calls so far this year to Fish and Game and the Juneau Police Department, double the number for the same period last year.
The calls involved 13 different bears. Four were moved away from the city and nine were killed because they posed threats to life or property.
Loren Brown, Juneau site manager for garbage utility Alaska Waste, told Juneau Assembly members that about 1,500 of 8,000 residential customers have bear-resistant trash cans, which automatically unload when turned upside down by a garbage truck lift.
“None of them are bear-proof,” Brown said.
There is a waiting list of 100 customers for the newest, bear-resistant trash cans, and 350 have been ordered, Brown said.
“This year is the worst it’s been in years,” Brown said. "It’s just hard to say what number is enough.”