Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Annual bear invasion begins

Fish and Game may relocate bruin from West Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

Like clockwork, bears returned to Ketchum and Warm Springs neighborhoods in August looking for free meals from garbage cans and careless homeowners.

?This is kind of the start for the peak activity period for bears that decide to come into town and forage,? said Lee Garwood, a conservation officer with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. ?It?s the same old thing. It?s the abundance of human food, a.k.a. garbage.?

Bears returned to trashcans in West Ketchum about three weeks ago, causing a ruckus and stirring up midnight choruses of discordant dog howls.

Garwood said four different bears have been in and out of town. One was bold enough to tear the door from a sliding closet. That bear, which Garwood believes he can identify using a photograph taken by a homeowner, is targeted for relocation.

But the real lesson is not how people can deal with the foraging bears, but what people can do to prevent the bears from traveling into town for food in the first place.

?I just try to encourage people to practice as good of garbage management as possible,? Garwood said. ?If you put it out the night before, it just simply makes an attractant, and the animal will make use of it if it?s there.?

There is a saying among wildlife officials that goes: A fed bear is a dead bear. Two years ago, Fish and Game officers shot and killed two bears that had become accustomed to eating human food. The animals eventually lost their instinctive fear of humans and began entering homes.

Moreover, Garwood stressed that bears should not be fed on purpose. Several people have boasted to reporters about the excellent photographs they were able to take by setting food out.

?For goodness sakes, we hope nobody?s putting food out to try to attract the bear for a better look at it,? Garwood said.

He advocated use of bear-proof dumpsters.

?With that, if you have a bear problem, it?s just going to go away, because they can?t get at it,? he said. ?It would be nice,? if the Wood River Valley?s cities would require bear-proof dumpsters, he added.

But Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon said he would rather ?educate than legislate.?

?It? hasn?t come up in the last two-and-a-half years since I?ve been mayor,? he said. ?A lot of it is common sense. You?ve got to be aware that you?re in the bear?s habitat.?

This summer, Blaine County Citizens for Smart Growth applied to Ketchum for $5,000 to work on public education efforts and to study how to implement bear-proof dumpsters. The Ketchum City Council denied the request.

?The priorities were elsewhere,? Simon said.

But Smart Growth Executive Director Christopher Simms said it is an important effort he?ll undertake ?if I have to fund it myself.?

?This is a problem that?s been around far longer than I?ve been here,? Simms said. ?I think in the big scheme of things, this is a public safety issue, num-ber one. Number two, it?s a quality-of-life issue that I think ranks very high as one of the reasons people live in the Sun Valley area?that is to live with nature.

?This is one of the mitigating things we need to do when we spread our human footprint into previously undeveloped areas.?

Despite the city?s inaction on the Smart Growth grant application, Simon said he would be happy to sit down with Fish and Game officers to figure out what the city can do to help.

?It?s a difficult problem and the bears are going to be there no matter what, looking for food,? he said. ?They?ve been there for so many years.?

Garwood said local residents need to be responsible about living in an area with a high concentration of wildlife.

?The whole valley, really, we?ve built out in these riparian zones that are resting and travel corridors for our animals,? he said. ?It?s great to be able to see them and know they?re around, but that comes with additional responsibility.

?Prevention is everything.?

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