Civilization kills


Mama grizzly and cubs in June before they moved down out of the Chugach Range and into trouble/Joe Connolly photo

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 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.

Uncooperative bears

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.








7 replies »

  1. I was appalled when I first moved back to Anchorage from Juneau; garbage day in ANC is a bear buffet! There are open garbage cans everywhere and sacks of garbage sitting on the curb for days sometimes. Dogs tear out the garbage, ravens tear out the garbage, and, of course, bears tear out the garbage. I lived in East Anchorage the first year I was here in what had once been a nice neighborhood before East Anchorage went to Hell; my street looked like a garbage dump on garbage days, and there was always trash lying around.

    We went through this in Juneau years ago; trapping and relocation had failed utterly. Between DF&G, JPD, and private citizens we were killing dozens of bears a year. There were several confrontations like the recent one in Girdwood in which people found a bear in their house. We got chased out the hot tub on our deck by bears a couple of times, and it became our habit to always make sure the front door was unlocked in case we had to bail out of the tub and run around to the front of the house to get inside. It’s almost miraculous that nobody was seriously injured or killed, but it became obvious that something had to be done.

    Of course, it was all a nanny-state plot to take away everyone’s freedom to make a damned mess on garbage day. women, children, and the poor were going to be hardest hit, and all the other crap you get from the “aginners.” And if you think you have aginners and busy-bodies in ANC, you should try Juneau, the home of the Citizens Against Virtually Everything (CAVE).

    Anyway, we got through it without a violent revolution and banned garbage outside except after 4AM on your garbage day. Required that all dumpsters have lids and be kept closed and with no open garbage around them. Open garbage and loose bags were prohibited – period. We didn’t go for bear proof residential cans, but we did require that all cans be securely closed. Unless you really liked picking up garbage off your street and your lawn, you at least used bungie cords already because ravens can and will open most any garbage can lid. Garbage cans in public places were bear proof and there were restrictions on how restaurants and grocery stores disposed of garbage. There were fines for violations and there were patrols. There were some slow learners and a few complaints but it didn’t take long before Juneau was a much cleaner place and bear encounters became quite rare.

    Bears pursuing moose calves and salmon is a wildlife management problem but bears feasting at the Anchorage Bear Buffet are a human management problem.

    • couldn’t agree more, Art. we had one problem in more than 30 years here on the Hillside. we never used a “bear proof” garbage can, but never put the trash out more than an hour before the truck arrived in the a.m. the only problem came probably 20 years ago when we were keeping garbage outside in a small bolted storage shed in the days before the new kitchen with a trash compactor. we had a black bear that managed to rip the doors off to get at the can, but he didn’t get anything out of it before i ran him off with a broom. he came back one more time. i bounced a rubber slug off his ass, and we never did see him again. the two married ladies across the road did get a little upset about the rubber slug. “why didn’t you just kill that bear,” one of them complained. “he’s been nothing but trouble.” i explained the pain-in-the-ass of DLP paperwork, and the argument one could get in with ADF&G over DLPing a neighborhood garbage bear, and had a talk with them about how if everyone kept the bear out of their garbage from here on everything would be fine. it was. but i’m guessing that bear just moved on to another subdivision to raid garbage, and probably ended up shot by Rick Sinnott who was removing a goodly number of the city’s problem bears back in the day. black bears are seldom a problem unless they get into garbage. the grizzly bears that move into town to hunt moose calves worry me a lot more. and i’ve never understood the people who let dogs, ravens and magpies get into their trash. how stupid does one have to be to repeat that exercise week after week? of course, i guess it’s probably less of a problem if you leave the trash scattered by birds and dogs to your neighbors to pick up.

  2. If ADFG takes this position re food conditioned bears why do they continue to issue baiting permits?

  3. I certainly wish you or someone else would delve into the fact that where there is hunting pressure, the bears are not nearly as attracted to trash. Kenai Peninsula and southeast alaska being cases in point. If we give them free reign, we need to expect that they will simply grow ever more bold in their search for handouts.

    • Anchorage is a pretty unique situation, David; it’s hard to exert direct hunting pressure here. the last thing anyone needs is a wounded bear running around the city. letting people who spend a goodly amount of time at the range remove one like this which is truly a problem waiting to happen is probably the best thing to do. beyond that, there are some other things that could be done, starting with reducing the number of salmon in Campbell Creek. those fish are a big draw that pull bears into and even through the city. and possible reducing the number of bears in Chugach State Park to open up more space for bears. i’d guess this poor sow grew up somewhere around Anchorage, got fairly comfortable with being around people, and decided this would be a safe place to raise young’uns because she wouldn’t have to spend so much time on the watch for other bears trying to kill them. bears live in a very harsh world.

      • Reducing fish? seem back wards thinking from the last article you posted Craig. what i think would be a better solution is changing some of the hunting seasons in 14c. Both Lower Eagle River Valley, and Upper Eagle River Valley have a registration permit from 6-sept. – 31 may. Your issues with bears down there are spring and summer. why not change the season to by registration, no closed season. Or at lest a bear hunt that goes till the end of June?
        Same for Eklutna Lake Management area (still can keep it to archery only) .

        The same season currently exist for brown bears in 14c.Sept.6-may 31. Change season to include a longer spring season. Say till end of June.

        It is obvious that there are many more bears that could be harvest and still comply with sustained yield. The fear that a hunter may wound a bear is not as big of an issue that some may portray. I would have to do a lot of research on this. but my observations of bear attacks in this area where hunting bears already exist. with at least 2 archery hunts and 1 shot gun season. i can not recall a wounded bear from a hunter being an issue.

        I believe late spring seasons would help trend down human bear conflicts.(non-hunter)

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