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Sitka bear task force tackles ‘trash caches’

ADF&G has identified 10 locations around Sitka where bears are taking garbage bags to sort their "loot." This bear was caught in the act in a Sitka neighborhood last summer. (ADF&G photo/Phil Mooney)

ADF&G has identified 10 locations around Sitka where bears are taking garbage bags to sort their “loot.” This bear was caught in the act in a Sitka neighborhood last summer. (ADF&G photo/Phil Mooney)

Sitkans will be doing some spring cleaning this weekend — but it’s not the usual sort of neighborhood sprucing up.

The Sitka Bear Task Force has organized work parties to tackle several bear caches — the places around town where brown bears have been dragging garbage bags over the years, to sort through their loot undisturbed.

Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Phil Mooney says cleaning up these so-called “trash caches” is no small job.

“Over the years you’ll get some places where you’ll have 2 and 3 pickup loads of material that’s piled back in there.”

The caches don’t have anything edible left in them, but they’ve become large enough to be an ongoing concern.

“It’s not of much value to the bears at that point but it’s an attraction — a curiosity thing. And it’s also a nuisance for other animals, ravens and eagles, that distribute that trash over the landscape.”

ADF&G has identified ten caches around town that need cleanup. Work this weekend will begin at 10AM Saturday on the old Harbor Mountain Road. Cadets from the Alaska Public Safety Academy will provide much of the labor. Mooney says the Sitka Bear Task Force has been in touch with other organizations — like the Boy Scouts and 4H — which might like to help with some of the other caches.

He says it’s important to go in now, before vegetation has leafed out. He’s noticed that people are anxious about cleaning up someone else’s trash — when that “someone” might not appreciate the help.

“And quite frankly, I don’t blame them. In some cases it’s a little spooky to be going in and picking up stuff like that if you think that the bear is nearby.”

Mooney says the caches are actually quite close to housing areas — maybe 40 to 50 meters — but totally out of sight. Bears that use the caches have become skilled raiders, toppling cans, grabbing what they can and heading to their caches.

Cleaning the caches may not stop this behaviour on the part of bears, but it may change OUR behaviour.

“Do I think the bears are going to go back to those after we clean them? Yup. I do. I think those places exist because the bears know they can get in and use them. On the other hand, when we get a call saying, Hey, a bear’s been in the neighborhood, he’s dragged some bags of garbage off, we’ll be able to go in there and pick those bags up and try to find out who they came from. Then we can go to them and say, Look, obviously he’s been getting into your trash. Let’s see what we can do to fix that.”

Mooney says anyone is welcome to participate in the Sitka Bear Task Force’s “Clean the Scene” effort. You don’t have to be a trooper to come out this Saturday morning at 10 AM to the old Harbor Mountain Road. Anyone who would like to join the work can call the department for more information at 747-5449.

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