A unique smell has been wafting through parts of Nome this past week, but it’s not your typical summer fragrance. It’s the smell of bear urine, and it’s part of a new plan being tested to keep musk oxen herds out of town. Tony Gorn is a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome.
“We routinely—almost daily, now—move musk ox. But then they come back. So, this is an attempt to maybe put out some type of deterrent to prevent them from coming in so close to town,” Gorn says.
He says the agency has tried it all—rubber bullets, firecrackers, even aircraft. Now, with tension in Nome mounting … as herds of the animals are continuing to congregate and threatening dogs and property—Gorn is trying a more natural incentive to coax them to leave.
“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. 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. Gorn is not yet sure how well the scent is carrying.
But where do you buy—or harvest—bear urine?
“Well, you can buy—you can buy it commercially. The Internet’s a wonderful thing,” Gorn says.
Gorn has been in contact with other biologists that deal with musk oxen, but says Nome’s 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.