Why Juneau’s garbage bears and parking scofflaws may catch a break

Community service officers are a subset of Juneau police. They don’t carry guns or make arrests. But they do enforce laws — like parking and garbage — and help with community outreach.

And sometimes that means they have to deal with trash-rummaging bears.

A black bears claws its way into a non-bear resistant trash can, Tuesday June 12th. (Photo by Carter Barrett/KTOO)

A black bears claws its way into a trash can in the Mendenhall Valley on June 12. (Photo by Carter Barrett/KTOO)

A black bear claws its way into a non-bear resistant trash can. Debris litters the ground to a backdrop of thick evergreens.

It is one of community service officer supervisor Bob Dilley’s first stops of the day.

With the bear 40 feet away, Dilley honks and revs his engine, he drives his SUV onto the gravel driveway.

The bear retreats a few feet, but returns to dig through a cascade of plastic — milk jug, mayonnaise container, a Gatorade bottle. The bear stands up, peering at the man trying to come between it and the trash.

Dilley nearly bumps the bear with his car, and only after a few minutes does the bear sulk back into the thick woods at the base of Thunder Mountain.

It was the second trashcan rummaged on the street.

“Usually they run off a little quicker than this,” Dilley said. “That’s the problem you get with these habituated bears that become accustomed to eating garbage.”

On this particular morning, Dilley encountered bears and ravens in trashcans, abandoned cars and one particularly petty complaint about a neighbor marking a parking spot with traffic cones.

For a long time, Juneau’s had five community service officers, but one retired this spring and city officials cut the vacant position from the budget.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game works closely with CSOs to determine hot spots for bear activity, and educate the community about proper waste management. Fish and Game biologist Stephanie Sell said the cut will be felt.  

They’re going to be overworked,” Sell said. “They can’t keep doing all the things they’re currently providing for the community, and one of those is the bear nuisance attractants laws.”

The tension between bears and people is especially high in low-income areas that don’t have garages or sheds to store trash, Sell said.

“Are people going, you know, just leave their trash out knowing they’re not going to get a ticket or fine?” Sell said. “Whether they do it knowingly or they do it because they’re not sure what’s the right thing to do.”

Juneau Assembly member Jesse Kiehl was one of the no votes on the cut.

He said the CSO positions are not the place to save money, and is concerned the consequences could stretch beyond enforcement and public safety outreach.

“I think it means less of that work and/or moving some of our police officers, our full-scale cops over to that kind of work,” Kiehl said. “They need to focus on building those relationships and investigating crimes and preventing crimes. They do a great job with that, I don’t want to see them diverted.” 

Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said the work will be divided among the remaining four officers, though the fifth position could come back.   

“There’s room to reconsider during the fiscal year provided we can find funding for it,” Cosgrove said. “In order to reconsider though I would want to see that the data there to support that.”

After leaving a ticket Dilley, cruises farther down the street.

“Some of the proactive stuff like we’re doing today where it’s not their garbage day, we go out drive through the neighborhood just because we know it’s a hot spot for bear activity, that type of proactive enforcement will probably go down some and we’ll be dealing with more complaint driven stuff,” Dilley said. “If nobody complained about that bear getting into the garbage that I just wrote the ticket for, we probably would not have been out here.”

On the right, a colorful playground sits empty in the drizzling mist.

“Really, he’s only 100 yards from the playground up here,” Dilley said. “Not good when you get kids and bears interacting.”

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