Play it safe with Alaska wildlife on JBER|
Posted 4/11/2013 Updated 4/11/2013
by Mary M. Rall
U.S. Army Alaska Public Affairs Office
4/11/2013 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- Being stationed in Alaska is a unique opportunity for many families, and a lot of the spectacular aspects of being stationed at JBER are literally located right in service members' own backyards.
It's not uncommon to come across a moose peeling birch bark off a tree at a residence or to discover a bear dumpster diving in a unit parking lot.
Some become so accustomed to sharing space with wildlife on base that it's easy to forget the danger undomesticated animals may pose.
The uniqueness of being stationed in Alaska is an experience no one should take for granted, but it's equally important to keep safety in mind when wildlife encounters become up close and personal.
Regrettably, base residents sometimes throw caution to the wind and interact with wildlife by feeding untamed animals, which may be perceived as being harmless.
However, it's not a victimless crime, according to Jim Wendland, a conservation law enforcement supervisor with the 673d Civil Engineer Squadron.
"It puts you, your neighbors - basically the whole installation population - at risk," Wendland said, noting that attracting animals to an area with food, deliberately or unintentionally, is not only dangerous, it's against the law.
According to the Government Registry Online Records Retrieval website, the negligent feeding of wildlife by displaying known moose attractants like hay in an accessible location in a yard or leaving unsecured dog food or birdseed out for bears to get into is punishable by a $300 fine.
Intentionally baiting animals into an area with such items is a Class-A misdemeanor that could result in jail time and a fine of as much as $2,000.
It's important to remember that being located on a military installation doesn't make wildlife any less "wild," and creating an unnatural familiarity between humans and animals is a dangerous thing to do.
Despite the fact that an Anchorage Daily News article entitled "85-year-old woman wields shovel to stop moose stomping" detailed how a "tiny but tough" senior citizen prevented a moose stomping her husband to death with the business end of a snow shovel, base residents should always remain cautious when they have any contact with wildlife.
Even a routine act of walking a dog can turn grave if a moose decides attacking a human is in its best interest, as the Jan. 22 article describes.
"Moose pose a real threat at the end of the winter season, because their bodies are stressed due to a lack of food," Wendland said, noting that a moose is more apt to fight than a bear is if its fight-or-flight instinct kicks in - especially if there is a calf with it.
As animals feed in residential areas, they get used to the presence of humans and are more likely to search those familiar areas for food.
After all, it's easier to walk down a plowed street to snack on a tasty wreath on someone's front door than it is to trudge through yards and yards-deep snow to get to a patch of trees.
Too often, base residents make it easy for wildlife to search residential areas for food simply because they don't make an effort to properly secure their trash.
Bears find this particularly attractive.
Bears don't like to work for their food and when a service member leaves trash cans outside, fails to secure dumpsters, or stores garbage in a truck bed, the bears will come.
Just as you might know which aisles in the supermarket carry your favorite cereals or potato chips, a bear can quickly identify the hot spots for scoring an easy meal.
Making a residential area a reliable food source for bears virtually guarantees they will frequent a neighborhood, putting the community and the animal at risk.
According to Wendland, nuisance bears aren't typically relocated, because they almost always return to a dependable food source.
As such, a service member's laziness when it comes to securing trash could result in a bear being destroyed if the animal's frequent foraging in a residential area poses a threat to base residents.
Bear season is also just around the corner, Wendland said.
Bear sightings were confirmed during the last week in April for the last three years - and as early as January in 2009.
"Contrary to what most people believe, bears don't hibernate during a specific time," Wendland said.
The latest spell of unseasonably warm weather in Anchorage could cause bears to start poking their heads out of their dens any day now.
Although bears have a tendency to initially stick close to their lairs following hibernation, he noted, it's only a matter of time until the need for sustenance will cause them to move progressively farther away from the comforts of home in search of food.
With that in mind, the time for service members to put measures in place to discourage bears from browsing what goodies might be hidden in a family's trash is now, rather than after a bear has turned a backyard into an animal's equivalent of a sample session at a local big box store.
No matter how cautious base residents are, though, there are times when Alaska's animals become all but unavoidable, whether they're quenching their thirst with a
residential sprinkler, or taking a break from the rigors of their daily routine in a neighborhood playground.
It's those kind of moments that can be some of the most memorable for families stationed in Alaska, and the temptation to share those experiences with others may cause people to put themselves unnecessarily at risk.
As enticing as it may be to approach wildlife in hopes of populating a social networking site with photos others won't be able to resist checking out, no number of "likes" is worth you and your family's safety.
"It's almost like they look at it like it's the neighborhood dog," Wendland said of bears base residents often seek out to photograph.
He described one instance when several base residents put themselves at risk
by taking pictures less than 30 feet from a brown bear which had killed a young bull moose along a stretch of Ship Creek.
"They got irritated when we asked them to leave for their own safety," Wendland recalled.
Social networking is a wonderful way to remain connected with friends and family members, but it would be a shame if the next status update someone makes is from the emergency room, because he got too close to wildlife for the sake of a picture.
Many animals have become accustomed to the humans dwelling where their den used to be, hiking through the forests where they hunt, or driving cars along the route to their favorite stream, but it's dangerous to mistake their tolerance of humanity for a willingness to participate in a photo shoot.
The safest wild animal is one that can be appreciated from a distance.
A close-up of the eagle hanging out in the trees outside a residence isn't as valuable as a person's safety, so no one should use a wild animal's proximity to justify putting himself at risk.
Instead, residents should get educated on how to safely record their wildlife sightings, a good resource for which is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.
The comprehensive site offers a wealth of information on how to safely observe and photograph wildlife under its "viewing" link, which includes information on observation ethics, how to obtain permits, where and when animals are most apt to be spotted, and detailed safety tips, guides and checklists.
Among the site's recommendations for safely viewing wildlife are giving animals plenty of space, learning how to recognize signs of alarm, how to be respectful of den areas, the importance of leaving orphaned or sick animals alone, why pets should be restrained and how to respectfully share a wildlife viewing opportunity with others who may be outdoors in hopes of having the same experience.
Ensuring the safety of the installation's residents when it comes to wildlife encounters is one everyone on base shares.
The inevitability of those opportunities to experience the state's wildlife make it essential for JBER's residents to be the brightest of the beasts by doing all they can to ensure the safety of the installation's human and animal communities alike.