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Baiting bears

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A grizzly sow and cub on the Anchorage Hillside last year/Joe Connolly photo

A freezer full of rotten meat dumped along an Anchorage Hillside road, a family of hungry grizzly bears, and a motorcyclist stopping to pee along the road….what could possibly go wrong?

Everything, but fortunately no one was seriously injured or killed, according to reports from residents along Canyon Road high above Alaska’s largest city on the edge of the wild, half-million-acre Chugach State Park.

The motorcyclist was charged by the bears, started shooting and escaped injury, according to area residents. The status of the bears is less clear. Chugach State Park Ranger Tom Crockett was investigating the scene Friday in an area where the locals are understandably madder than hell about the dumped freezer and dumping along the road in general.

Information was not immediately available from the Anchorage Police Department, which responded to the scene after the shooting started. Nearby resident Rob Brown said police told him they thought the bears might have been hit by gunfire, but they weren’t sure.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Division spokesman Ken Marsh messaged his understanding that APD removed the freezer and the food, but he couldn’t provide more information.

“We’ve had our hands full today and are trying to gather information on (the Canyon Road) report,” he messaged.

The agency had its hands full dealing with a sow grizzly and two cubs wildlife officials shot and killed in the Hiland Road area of Eagle River about 10 miles to the northeast of Canyon Road.

State biologists are suspicion those bears were involved in the fatal mauling of Hiland resident Michael Soltis, 44, sometime on or before June 20, and possibly the mauling of a searcher looking for Soltis on that day although no cubs were reported spotted in the latter attack. 

Wildlife officials were able to determine from DNA taken from bite marks on Soltis and the searcher that both bear attacks involved female bears.

“We’ve…received recent visual reports of at least a couple of brown bear sows using the South Fork of Eagle River,” Marsh revealed earlier this week. The South Fork, a salmon spawning stream, flows along and at one point crosses Hiland Road just north of Alaska’s largest city.

Most of the 300 to 500 king salmon that return to Eagle River in June and July spawn in the South Fork. It is a regular attraction for bears.

Bears, bears, bears

Anchorage and the surrounding area has a large and healthy populations of bears. Fish and Game has estimated the number at 250 to 350 black bears and 55 to 65 grizzly bears, but bears are notoriously hard to census.

Residents who find themselves dealing with bears regularly on the Anchorage Hillside and in Eagle River think the state count might be low.

“We’ve just seen a huge explosion of bears here,” Brown said.

Canyon Road resident Brena Doolen, a woman now in her 30s who grew up in the area, said there are noticeably more bears than when she was young. Just to the northeast of her along Hiland Road, some say the same thing.

Doolen neighbor Brown said he regularly sees bears outside his home.

He’s confident that the bears shot at near the freezer were a sow grizzly and two cubs that have been regulars along the road lately. Both he and Doolen admitted to being somewhat skeptical of the story of the motorcyclist stopping to pee along the road, which leads a trailhead for the south access to popular Flattop Mountain.

But, both agreed, there was a motorcyclist, a freezer full of rotten meat, gun shoots and a motorcyclist who said he was charged by bears.

“Yesterday (Thursday) evening about 6:20, I was outside and heard a bunch of gunshots,” Doolen said. APD arrived on the scene shortly after.

“The story is that this guy on a motorcycle stopped to pee near the freezer,” she said, “and I guess two brown bear bears charged out of the woods and he fired at them.”

She is only suspicious about the pee part. She thinks the motorcyclist might have been hanging around hoping to see bears. For every person in Anchorage nervous about meeting a bear, there seems to be one who wants to meet a bear.

And Canyon Road, which runs above Rabbit Creek, is as good a place as any to go look for bears.

“Rabbit Creek is a highway for them,” Brown said.

Brown said he’d like to talk to the motorcyclist to gather more information on whether the man thought he hit the bears, and what kind of gun he was shooting.

“I’m really worried about those bears being wounded,” said the father of two young children.

He fears a wounded bear or bears might prove more of a threat than the unwounded bears that border on becoming nuisances for some Hillside residents. The website Nextdoor now features almost daily reports from people sightings bear in neighborhoods abutting the wild, Chugach Park to the south and west.

There are grizzly bears, black bears, and black bears easily confused with grizzly bears. A couple very brown-colored, “cinnamon black bears” running around upper DeArmoun Road southeast of the city center have been mistaken as grizzly cubs by some, which immediately makes anyone familiar with bears nervous for good reason.

Grizzly sows defending cubs are the bears most likely to attack people. They don’t usually kill humans, but they can do a lot of damage in acting on their belief they need to protect their cubs by neutralizing any perceived threat.

Fish and Game warns hikers, and even road walkers in some neighborhoods, to carry bear spray just in case. There is a chance of running into a bear almost anywhere.

But it  doesn’t help when someone dumps bear bait in the form of a freezer full of raw meat in your backyard.

Outrage is the only word to describe how Brown, Doolen and their neighbors feel about what happened along Canyon Road. The furniture, the tires and the rest of the “shit that gets dumped all the time” is bad, Doolen said, but it pales against a freezer full of rotting meat – a smell messy sure to attract and hold bears in the neighborhood.

There are enough problems by Canyon Road residents who don’t properly care for their garbage and allow bears to get into it, Brown said.

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12 replies »

  1. Who dumped the salmon? Take a look at your calendar. It’s dip net season. Time to dump the freezer-burned fish that you caught too many of last year. So you will have an empty freezer to stock way more fish than you will consume this year. Waste? Nah, it’s called dip net mentality.

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    • well, except that all reports are it was full of meat, not fish. and the freezer-burn problem has gone down significatly since vacuum packing arrived on the scene.
      i’ve actually discovered that if you roll filets in a paper towel before you vacuum-pack, they will keep extremely well. the vacuum packing pulls moisture into the paper which then essentially creates a layer of ice around the fish to provide a double barrier against air penetration.
      as an experiment last year, i actually slipped a two-year-old packet of fish i’d saved into a barbecue after coming back from a successful fishing trip of which friends were aware. i never told anyone they were eating “fresh” sockeye, but they all assumed that and i didn’t bother to correct them.
      there was the usual raving about “how much better fresh fish taste.”
      i have no reservations about donating year-old sockeye to Bean’s Cafe or even giving it away to people who don’t fish. anyone who is dumping it should be prosecuted for littering.

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  2. The freezer is a moot point.
    AKF&G allow guides to dump hundred’s of “bait stations” all around this state to attack bears to “hunt” them…why are bait stations allowed for commercial guiding in Alaska?
    The guide typically takes a 55 gallon drum and shoots a bunch of holes in it with 12 gauge slugs….they then fill it with dog food and cover it with deep fryer grease and hang it in a tree with a heavy chain. The bears come along and shake the drum to get dog food covered pellets to drop out through the holes….I have seen them along the Yentna River.
    So, if all the yuppies in Anchorage want to complain about “baiting bears”, please call up your local Fish and Game Biologists and ask them why bait stations are allowed for commercial hunting operations throughout south central.
    These stations are many times close to recreational properties and only habituate bears more to human interface.
    As for the dude on the motorcycle….The take away is that he was armed to defend himself…fired at the bears and is alive today unhurt….many residents in the Anchorage Bowl can learn a lot from that interaction…be alert and have “protection” in bear country.

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    • Steve, you bring up an interesting point on sanctioned feeders and habituation.
      Personally I see no sport in killing a bear over a feeder and paying $15,000 to $25,000 to do it. But heck, I see about as much sport in killing a bore feeding in a sedge meadow to killing a cow. Guess it all has to do with an over-abundance of bears. You are right, the crunchy, bear spray crowd could learn something from this incident – firearms save people!

      Liked by 1 person

      • From a “crunchy” bear spray user: who’s to say bear spray wouldn’t have yielded the same result of protecting the motorcyclist? When used correctly bear spray has proven to be effective (and firearms for protection are hardly foolproof, either). An added benefit of bear spray is that it doesn’t send bullets flying around a residential neighborhood.

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      • Matias, obviously point taken. My apologies, as bear spray has proven effective in deterring several attacks. It is my understanding that with every defensive use of bear spray the bear never left the attack area. Who the heck wants that? I think it is great that an option exists for the anti-gun crowd, but consider the variables that are needed, ideal wind, little to no mist/rain, you get only a couple seconds of spray, and you have to wait until the bear is bascially upon you. Again, it gives those that don’t know any better a sense of security, which serves its purpose. There is a saying “loaded for bear” and it isnt referring to red pepper. I am pretty sure if you are being charged by a grizzly the whole “residential” thiggy wouldnt have crossed your mind. To each their own. Happy trails.

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      • Bear spray is a valid option if the bear is coming at you with their face and nose in open terrain and you can get a good shot into the nasal airway…
        The problem is many Alaskans who have been charged by bears tell a story of being “attacked” before they know what was hitting them.
        In a scenario in which a bear “blindsides” a hiker or hunter in the woods, there is little chance of bear spray “pushing” the bear off of you at this point….hence, the only defense would be to place the muzzle of your firearm into the body of the bear and unload it.
        A close friend who lives in the bush has had to kill several bears in self defense and has told me that when a large sow black bear attacked him while getting into his jon boat, there would have been no chance to spray it in the nose since it was “on top” of him before he knew what hit him.
        I personally think bear spray is good to have around camp for the “non lethal bear encounters”, but when faced with a rogue bear who is hunting you and wants to kill you, an appropriate firearm that you have trained with often is your best defense.

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      • I agree with Steve and Brian mostly. Bear baiting is bad within 200 miles of human structures do to habituation. Which covers most of Alaska . It also takes away legitimacy of pride trophy hunters have when they take bears in a more fair chase hunt . Bait stations are pretty sleazy hunter ethics . Completely embarrassing hunter ethics for taking magnificent animal like a brown bear Unless you are a child or invalid. Or hunting solely for meat . Long time guides point of view. Make no mistake I see huge value in having large game trophy/ hunt experience available for humans especially in this era . More important to certain people now than before due to over civilized life that people live . I also agree with Steve’s point of view on bear protection. Craig’s idea for longer term quality frozen salmon is a very interesting one .

        Liked by 1 person

      • This hunting guide also states in the article above; ” I estimate from past trail cam pics that I feed over 80 different brown bears and at least 150 black bears at my sites during the months of May and June.”
        This needs to end for everyone’s safety.

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  3. Kind of a crazy article Craig. Hard to believe somebody would do all of that on purpose. But, how elese does a freezer full of game meat get on the side of the road? Power outage spoil the meat? Just easier to dump the whole freezer? As for the motorcyclist, well, hard not to believe his story. I mean, who in their right mind would ride a motorcycle, park it, carry a pistol, and sit next to a locker full of rotting meat and then report it? He could practically see bears anywhere else.
    The bears are doing what bears do. Seek opportunity, eat, defend. Yes, bears do and will eat people. Not often because the ones that aquire a taste are hunted down and killed immediately.

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  4. Dumping a load of rotten meat in bear country. WTF! … Maybe the freezer fell off the back of a truck? Maybe someone hates someone else who lives on Canyon Road? …
    About the South Fork Eagle River bears: Obviously ADF&G really wanted/wants to kill the bear that killed Soltis. They’re saying the cubs have likely learned the bear’s bad behavior and that’s why they have to go. But what bad behavior? I don’t remember reading that they had been eating garbage, although it’s very possible in that residential community along Hiland Road that someone put out the garbage in a careless way.
    Or is it that the sow became a man-eater? I’m pretty sure I read that there was evidence Soltis was partially eaten. I thought it strange that a brown bear would do that, but maybe it’s not strange.
    It doesn’t seem right that they would kill a sow merely for being a defensive sow with cubs. They must have some other rationale. Let’s hope we find out.

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