A massive grizzly bear sow with two young cubs that had been roaming neighborhoods near Service High School on the Anchorage Hillside is dead.
Officials of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided she posed too great a risk to public safety and killed her earlier this month, agency spokesman Ken Marsh said. The cubs were taken to the Alaska Zoo.
Zoo curator Shannon Jensen said Tuesday the young bears are eventually destined for the Oakland Zoo where they will grow up protected from the dangers wild bears otherwise face in the midst of humanity.
The mother of the cubs was eliminated as a threat to humans because of the protective nature of mama grizzlies. They are the polar opposites of black bear sows with cubs, which sometimes make a big fuss as if preparing to attack but almost never follow through.
Grizzly sows with cubs, on the other hand, usually make little fuss instead choosing simply to attack.
“Be especially cautious if you see a female with cubs,” the National Park Service warns. “Never place yourself between a mother and her cub, and never attempt to approach them. The chances of an attack escalate greatly if she perceives you as a danger to her cubs.”
With a huge sow and her cubs wandering through populous Anchorage’s neighborhoods, the concern wasn’t so much that someone might place themselves between the sows and cubs as it was that someone, possibly a child, might accidentally end up between sow and cubs.
Some area homeowners had photos of the bear and her young wandering around their children’s playground equipment.
Asked to act
A number of concerned citizens and Hillside Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, appealed to officials of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation about the danger, arguing the bears were a disaster just waiting to happen if something wasn’t done
“I was pestering them pretty hard,” Birch said Monday, “but they were debating.”
Birch’s daughter lives in the Sahalee subdivision next to Service where the bears were regular visitors. She has children ages 7 and 2.
“It was just a terrible situation,” Birch said. “Everybody looks on (the bears) as big cuddly teddy bears,” but a grizzly could kill a child by accident with a swat of a paw thinking it was just knocking a human away from its cub.
And in a year when a seemingly less-dangerous black bear has already killed a 16-year-old boy in the Anchorage area, many are attuned to bear dangers.
Birch was, however, unaware the grizzly had been killed until craigmedred.news contacted him Monday. He praised the state agency for taking action.
“Good on them,” he said. “They deserve a pat on the back, but I’m sure for every pat on the back, they’re going to have 50 people that are angry they shot the bear.”
Humans vs. wild
There are indeed mixed feelings about wildlife in Alaska’s largest city and nationally. Though bears – both grizzly (or brown as Alaskans often call them) and black – are plentiful in the 49th state, there are those who see the killing of any one of them in Anchorage as civilization’s encroachment on a species that was “here first.”
The situation, however, isn’t that simple. Heavy hunting in the surrounding area up through the 1960s suppressed the region’s bear population. It began to rebound after the creation of the half-million-acre Chugach State Park at the city’s doorstep in 1970.
The park is a defacto wilderness area, and by the 2000s, the bear population was fully recovered. By 2012-13 state wildlife biologist Sean Farley was tracking radio-collared bears spilling out of the wild lands to roam all over the city.
Anchorage has been wrestling with how to manage the bears ever since. In this case, wildlife biologists were at first hopeful the sow and her cubs would wander back into the wilds of the city’s Bicentennial Park adjacent to the Chugach, but when the sow got into some trash, a decision was made that something needed to be done.
“We chose to be proactive in that situation,” Marsh said. “They ended up putting the sow down.”
Trash is a well-known food attraction that will keep bears in a local area for considerable time. Anchorage residents face fines for intentionally or accidentally feeding bears, and Fish and Game is regularly warning that “a fed bear is a dead bear.”
A bullet is really the only way to deal with a food-conditioned bears, although the state tried a different tactic in 2015 after newly elected Gov. Bill Walker expressed his displeasure upon learning a family of five bears were slated for execution in the city.
“Gov. Bill Walker has stepped in to save the black bear family roaming Government Hill,” KTVA-TV reported at the time. The state spent about $10,000 to live capture the bears and haul them across Turnagain Arm to a remote corner of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Upon release into the Kenai wilderness, the bears almost immediately turned into the wind and headed for the tiny community of Hope, about 25 miles to the east. It didn’t take them long to get into trouble there.
“The Porcupine Campground host reported that the collared bears had torn apart a campsite by shredding a tent, damaging a vehicle, and digging through coolers, Jeannine Jabaay reported for the Turnagain Times a couple of weeks after their release. “Previously, the bears had been credited to feasting on local chickens and acting aggressively toward a Boy Scout troop hiking near the campground.”
The state eventually had to kill four of the bears – the sow and three cubs. The fiasco reinforced a long-held Fish and Game view that capturing and relocating food-conditioned bears doesn’t solve a problem; it just relocates a problem.
But killing bears remains unpopular with some segments of the public. And somehow the latest killing went publicly unmentioned until Marsh was queried about reports of cubs going to the zoo.
Marsh attributed the quiet disappearance of the sow – at a time when state agencies regularly flood news organizations with media releases – to various wildlife employees going on vacation.
“I don’t think (the communication) was very streamlined,” he said.
Shortly after the sow was killed, one of the cubs was caught in a live trap, but the other was seen limping around Service neighborhoods for a couple of days after that. It was eventually captured.
Jensen said it turned out that the little bear had been injured in a confrontation with a porcupine.
“We pulled out 15 quills,” she said. “He’s just limping around a little now because it hurts.”
A full recovery is expected before the two cubs head into protective custody in California.