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The bears are remarkable this year.
Unlike last year, when we reported 29 total sightings in the area up behind downtown, our tally is up to 50. That covers only a small section of town. Bears are being seen from one end of the island to the other.
It also used to be just a single bear peering at us from around corners as we delivered newspapers, but more cubs are showing up in the company of their mothers this year. Twenty such sightings are reported to date.
This trend portends problems not only for the bears but for the community. A bear showed up down near Tongass Trading Co. recently; bears will draw tourists off the cruise ships to that location, which might help business, but also presents a potentially dangerous situation.
What the bear was doing in that part of downtown, away from the fish-filled Ketchikan Creek, is a curiosity. But it's garbage attracting bears into the downtown, as well as rural residential areas.
Many folks figured out that they can outsmart the bears by keeping their garbage in a garage or basement until collectors come around for it. Some even freeze especially fragrant trash before putting it into the can on garbage-pickup day. By the time it thaws, releasing the aroma, it's in the garbage truck.
But, still, lots of garbage is found and ransacked by the bears, leaving messes unsightly not only to the tourists, but to locals, too. There's just no way of making garbage lying in the street look like art.
A fine structure exists for those who fail to deal sensibly with their garbage. But maybe a few incentives would be helpful, too. Maybe during bear season, residents could receive a credit on their garbage bill for protecting their trash from bears. It would be a relatively simple incentive to provide, given that it becomes very clear early in bear season where the bears frequent. The collectors know and see the results. Give them the authority to make a list of addresses where the bears access garbage cans. Then, those areas become the focus of the incentives. The rest of us benefit from the results.
That's one idea, and it would need to be fleshed out. But if the number of bear sightings increases in future years, we'll need more solutions.
Ketchikan Pulp Co. used to assist in the transport of nuisance bears out of the community and back into the wild. That helped for a while. But the bears are coming back in force. Without a KPC helicopter and the help of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which continues to address bears concerns, the only way to deter bears is to better contain garbage.