You may have noticed a unique scent wafting through Nome this past week. Not your typical summer fragrance—it’s the smell of bear urine, and it’s part of a new idea being tested to keep musk ox herds out of town.
“We routinely—almost daily, now—move musk ox. But then they come back,” said Tony Gorn, Alaska Department of Fish & Game wildlife biologist for the Nome area. “So, this is an attempt to maybe put out some type of deterrent to prevent them from coming in so close to town.”
Gorn said Fish & Game has tried it all—rubber bullets, firecrackers…even aircrafts—but the most reliable way to move musk oxen herds out of town is on foot. Now, with tension in Nome over threats to dogs and property from the large animals, Gorn thought it might be time to try a more natural incentive.
“Some of the groups, at least, of musk ox are moving close to town because they’re trying to find a bear-free zone. So really the idea is to make it appear like there may be bears in the local area and maybe they would move back out,” Gorn said. “It’s absolutely not tested yet, but it’s worth a try.”
Gorn says the urine has been applied to two sites where people have had run-ins with the herds. However, Nome’s windy, wet climate is proving a challenge for implementation. The bear urine is in small plastic containers, like wicks, but Gorn said he’s not sure how well the scent is carrying.
The question many are asking is: Where do you buy—or harvest—bear urine?
“Well, you can buy it commercially. The Internet’s a wonderful thing,” said Gorn.
Gorn has been in contact with other biologists that deal with musk oxen, but says our situation on the Seward Peninsula is unique. And it’s a polarizing issue for residents—some people are frustrated by the threat of herds in their backyard, while others like the experience of living close to wildlife.
The musk oxen population on the Seward Peninsula has been declining by about 13 percent each year. But without a current brown bear population estimate, it’s hard to determine why the musk oxen are choosing to move so close to town.
Fish & Game plans to continue experimenting with bear urine in small test sites around Nome. For now, while it might be an inconvenience, Gorn recommends chain-link fences and dog kennels to keep pets safe.