Public Works discusses possibilities for the future

By ELISE GIORDANO

Every fall, once the tourists and seasonally employed have dispersed, leaving exhaustion and trash in their wake, a new visitor comes to town.

Lured in by fruit trees and over-flowing garbage cans, brown bears make themselves at home in the alleys and streets of Skagway, and occasionally leave once they’ve had their fill.
Unfortunately, this year’s brown bear wasn’t so timely.

According to Skagway Chief of Police Ray Leggett, after weeks of attempting to get a safe shot, hunter Kevin Grieser finally had his chance.

On Oct. 29, the 500-pound brown bear wandered onto the east side of the railroad tracks and Grieser took the shot.

Leggett said it was completely legal for Grieser to shoot the bear, adding that the hunter had all of his appropriate papers and tags.

Leggett originally posted on the Skagway Police Department’s Facebook page about the bear’s death, but removed the post after it caused a lot of commotion from several locals.

“People are more important than bears,” Leggett said. “This isn’t Boo Boo. This is a brown bear.”

He said bears get irritable and hungry, and sooner or later someone would come in contact with it.

“The public shouldn’t be held hostage because there are a few people who didn’t want to see the bear shot,” he said.

Leggett said the bear came into town because of the fruit trees, but stayed because of the trash.

He hoped the bear would move on, but when he didn’t, they began hazing him with rubber bullets. Still, the bear did not retreat.

The police department paired up with a few local hunters to help shoot the bear if the opportunity arose.

Leggett said that if a hunter takes the shot, they get to keep the meat and the hide. If Fish and Game have to remove the bear, all parts of the bear would go to the state.

Stephanie Sell, Alaska Department of Fish and Game area biologist for northern Southeast, said they hadn’t heard anything about the bear until it had been shot.

Sell said their wildlife trooper for Skagway has been out of town, and so she does not know specific details regarding the bear. But in most cases, they look at how many calls and complaints they’ve received regarding the bear and look at their options.

In this case, they knew nothing of the bear until its death.
The wildlife trooper for Skagway will not be reachable until later in the month.

Mayor Mark Schaefer said he didn’t want to see the bear taken, but after the recent mauling of a Teslin area woman in the Yukon, he didn’t see any other option.

“I don’t know how the elected people sitting at this table would answer the question, ‘how did you not deal with that animal?’” Schaefer said.

He said that this brown bear was a very large animal and asked at what point it would decide to turn on somebody.

“They’re not warm fuzzy things. They are beautiful to look at, but we can’t have them comingling with our population,” Schaefer said.

The Public Works committee held a meeting on Nov. 10 to discuss what measures should be taken to prevent new bears from coming to town and over-staying their welcome.

Public Works and Solid Waste Advisory committee members discussed the possibility of purchasing new bear-proof trashcans and also enforcing current code.

Municipal code currently states that no trash fine should exceed $100.

They discussed altering the code to do away with the limit and make it permissible for Public Works employees to issue fines should their trash violate code.

Public Works employee Matt Deach said trashcans are often over-flowing and are put out before 4 a.m. He said only about 10 percent of residents are actually in compliance with code.

The committee discussed the possibility of automated trash pickup, with a garbage truck that could pick up bear-proof cans on its own, each can costing between $250 and $300.

Deach said the city would have to do some major rerouting as utility lines are in most of the alleyways.

They also discussed increasing trash pick up to twice a week from the middle of September to the middle of November in an effort to decrease the amount of trash in town.

Deach said before purchasing any new trashcans or garbage trucks, he would like to see current code enforced.

Kim Burnham, secretary of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said she heard the same things last year – that they would try to enforce code and find a solution.

“And now we have a dead bear,” Burnham said.

The Public Works committee did not make any concrete decisions, but decided to bring more suggestions to the table during a Nov. 13 meeting, which was held after this paper went to press.

Although Chief Leggett hasn’t seen evidence of any other bears in town, he said he’s not relaxing just yet.

“I hate to see the bear get shot. I’m not anti-bear. But I do believe that people are more important than bears,” Leggett said. “I don’t think it’s just a trash issue. It’s a complete issue.”