‘They’re just going to rip everything open’: Displaced Haines residents worry that bears will trash their empty homes

Amber Winkel (left) and Todd Winkel (right) make their way across the Beach Road landslide in order to check on their home. (Photo by Henry Leasia/KHNS)

When residents evacuated Beach Road in Haines last month, they left home abruptly with little more than the clothes on their backs. They still don’t know when they will be able to return.

The landslide cut off electricity and road access to the area, making it difficult to return home to retrieve items.

“It really worries me because we went to Costco and there is food in there,” said Haines resident Maggie Balise.

Her home is beyond where the landslide crossed Beach Road. Balise has been making short trips to it on foot.

“Every time I bring a little bit of food out because in the spring when the bears wake up, they’re going to hit one of the houses, the smelliest house probably,”Balise says. “Then they’re going to turn around and find other homes — just go down the line whether there is food or not, and they’re just going to rip everything open.”

In recent years, Haines residents have experienced a spike in property damage from bears, and a record number of bears were killed in defense of life and property last year. A local task force was created to come up with ways to improve the situation.

Balise took her concerns to the task force last week.

“There are a lot of homes over there that have a lot of food,” Balise told the bear task force. “We have been over their emptying out freezers the best that we can. We don’t have great access to get there. We either get it by boat or we haul it out in backpacks.”

Members of the task force agreed that leaving food and other bear attractants unattended on Beach Road could pose a serious problem.

They discussed the possibility of using a landing craft or even a helicopter to haul out food from Beach Road homes. The task force recommended that the Haines emergency operations center work with Beach Road residents to explore ways to remove bear attractants.

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