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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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.