Record kill


An Anchorage Hillside neighborhood black bear/Craig Medred photo

Snow was falling on Anchorage on Monday, and the last couple black bears still roaming the urban edge of the nearly 2,000-square-mile municipality were thought be headed at last to dens where they should remain out of contact with humans for months.

So ended another “bear season” – as some residents of Alaska’s urban underbelly now call the warmer months –  with one human dead and a record number of bears shot and killed.

Forty-four-year-old Michael Stoltis went for a hike in his South Fork Eagle River neighborhood on the northern edge of the city in late June and never returned. He was later discovered to have been killed by a predatory grizzly sow. 

He was the second Anchorage resident to die that way in the past two years. Sixteen-year-old Patrick Cooper was killed by a predatory black bear east of the city while descending a popular trail after an organized mountain run in 2017.

The deaths heightened concerns about bears and might have contributed to the record 41 of the animals killed this year by state and local officials or residents defending themselves. Tensions ran high after Stoltis’s body was found and one of a group of people searching for him was attacked by a bear that had buried his remains as if planning to later feed on them.

In the wake of that incident, Alaska Department of Fish and Game employees shot and killed a grizzly sow and two cubs spotted in the area. Genetic evidence cleared them of killing Stoltis, but the state agency says it now has the genetic fingerprint of the guilty bear and plans to kill her and her cubs if they are ever found.

The death of Stoltis coupled with bears popping up all over town put bear-human interactions in the spotlight all summer long.

By August, Anchorage assemblyman John Weddleton, a witness to the tragic and horrifying attack on Cooper in 2017, was holding public meetings to talk about what to do about the bears.


Anchorage public meeting notice/Craig Medred photo

Deja vu

Anchorage has been here before.

After a bear nearly killed a young cyclist on an Anchorage trail in 2008, the New York Times headlined that “Attacks by Bears Put Anchorage on Edge.”

At the time, the Anchorage Daily News’ Megan Holland reported that with 17 bears dead Anchorage looked on its way to top an old record of 21 kills in a summer.  Then area wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott told her it might be a sign of people being “a little trigger happy…after the mauling of a 15-year-old cyclist in June in Far North Bicentennial Park.”

One other thing was clear:

Anchorage black and grizzly bear populations hunted to very low numbers in the 1960s and 1970s when hunters swarmed the foothills above what was an isolated community of 100,000 had recovered as Anchorage was swelling to become the fifth largest urban area north of 61 degrees latitude. 

“In the early 1990s, an average of three black bears and one brown bear were shot a year. Then the numbers started climbing,” Holland reported. “In 2000, a record 21 bears died — 16 of those were shot — and vehicles ran into three adult bears and two cubs.”

Numbers have yo-yoed up and down since, but the five-year average, counting 2018, of 23 dead bears is about six times what it was in the 1990s and higher than the one-time record in 2000. The annual kills have covered a wide range from a low of nine bears in 2016 to the 41 this year, but in three of the last five years 22 or more bears have been killed.

Of the those killed in 2018, Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh reported, 14 were grizzlies, an endangered species in other parts of the country. The other 27 were black bears.

Grizzlies remain plentiful in Alaska as do black bears, which are now common in significant parts of the Lower 48 as well.  The number of grizzlies shot this year is, however, unprecedented. Only three of the 34 bears killed last year were grizzlies. 

The 2018 grizzly kill was twice the 2012 record of seven, but that is not necessarily a bad thing from a wildlife standpoint. The large number might simply be indicative of a sizable population of bears in an area still dominated by wild lands.

A state-sized municipality

“For context, it’s important to note that the municipality is a large area encompassing roughly 1,960 square miles spanning from the south bank of the Knik River to Anchorage, including the communities of Eklutna, Chugiak, Eagle River, and southeast to Portage, including the communities of Indian, Bird Creek and Girdwood,” Marsh said.

The Municipality of Anchorage is about 60 percent bigger than the 1,212-square-mile state of Rhode Island, and it includes the nearly half-million-acre Chugach State Park, a largely wilderness area that abuts the Chugach National Forest and little-developed Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson.

Those areas are something of a refugia for bears and appear to be at their ecological carrying capacity. For bears, this sometimes results in pressure for some of them to expand their range into the urban area.


Bear-proof garbage cans only keep scavengers away when the lids are closed/Craig Medred photo

But the city also has plenty of bear attractants – some natural, some manmade – that add to problems. Bears smelling what is garbage to humans but food to scavengers are drawn to the city throughout the snow-free part of the year.

Bird seed has the same effect; bears quickly learn to target the energy rich food in bird feeders and some people refuse to take them down in the summer despite the pleadings of neighbors and state wildlife biologists.

Natural attractions also abound.

In the summer, bears come looking for salmon in Anchorage creeks, some of which have seen salmon numbers boosted thanks to hatchery programs. And in the spring, the city boasts abundant moose calves, a prime prey for bears of both species.

Further complicating the picture are indications pregnant moose may  migrate into the city in May and June seeking the protection of people when giving birth. Scientists studying moose in Central Alaska in the 1980s found cows in the White Mountains National Recreation Area migrating 40 to 60 miles south to Fairbanks to bear their young away from the teeth and fangs of predators.

Joel Berger, a scientist working in Yellowstone National Park, later documented the phenomenon there as well. “These findings offer rigorous support that mammals use humans to shield against carnivores,” he wrote in a peer-reviewed study in Biology Letters.

Scientists studying moose in the Alaska Panhandle in 2016 reported big advantages for the animals migrating to areas predators might be inclined to avoid.

“Calf survival was 2.6-2.9 times higher for individuals that migrated than those that did not,” they wrote in a peer-review study published in Ecology.  “Our results support the predation-risk avoidance hypotheses, and suggest that migration is a behavioral strategy that principally operates to reduce the risk of calf predation.”

Stoltis was hiking at a time when grizzlies would have been still looking for moose calves. He was not carrying a weapon for bear defense.

Many in the muni now do. In terms of personal bear safety, Anchorage has changed radically in that regard over the past decade.

It is now common to see people in almost any wooded area of the city carrying pepper spray designed to ward off curious or attacking bears. Costco sells it by the pallet load in the spring.


Pepper spray on sale at Costco/Craig Medred photo

It is clear one of the responses to the bear problem of a decade ago has been adaptation to the new risk. Anchorage residents have become much more bear aware.

Still, bears in the city remain a much-debated topic.

There are bear lovers sure to be appalled to learn that 41 were killed this year just as there will be bear haters wishing the count had been higher.






22 replies »

  1. Let me see – Alaska has over 100,000 black bears and approx 32,000 Brown /Grizzly bears. Are we quibbling over 41 trouble makers, 3 of whom (most likely) ate on a man while still alive? When I am in Katmai or Lake Clark I see no shortage of brown bears. I see several (5+) within a mile or two. As for Steve, the country in general has made huge strides in reintroducing animals back into their natural habitat. F&G’s all over the country do an excellent job with the resources they have. Country wide numbers of Black and Brown Bear, Coyote, Mountain Lion, Buffalo, Elk, Wolves, Eagles, etc.. have risen dramatically. 41 rougues or annual harvest numbers of bears aren’t making a dent in their rising population. Just more of “the sky is falling” drivel.

    • The issue isn’t the number of bears whether alive or dead. The issue is stupid people. Alaska has long been home to some of the stupidest people in Amurika. But as time goes on, Alaskans, especially trigger happy redneck buffoons and kill-everything Natives, keep getting stupider. That’s the issue. And I’m guessing you are part of this problem.

      • I don’t have a problem with 41 aggressive and man-eating bears put down. Do you? Anchorage is a large town with lots of garbage and moose calves. The surrounding hills, along with Bicentennial Park contain bears. A fact of life is people and bears in close proxcimity will have conflict – period. As bear numbers increase, so will the occurances.

    • Bryan, I don’t want to offend you but, if you don’t like the bears ??? LEAVE ALASKA… We who live here do so because we like to be around bears… You are of the minority… See ya…

  2. Well Craig,
    This time we do have a “smoking gun” and it points right back to F&G and state biologists who kill the most bears each season around Anchorage.
    How many of the 41 dead bears died through the scopes of state employees…mostly “biologists”?
    I wonder if this type of lifestyle contributed to Dave Harkness’s depression?
    We are still living under policies created by old F&G Directors like Corey Rossi…manly the “Placebo” that predator control somehow makes us safer in Alaska.
    “Rossi, a proponent of “intensive management,” better known as predator control.”
    This has not proved true.
    Bear attacks are up in spite of record killings by state biologists?
    Maybe Mother Nature is pissed off at the relentless attacks of her children…even bears that have done no harm.
    With Dunleavy appointing Rick Rydell into “management” of F&G, I can only think this uptick in killing bears will continue…or increase?
    I once saw a guide with two dead bears cubs near Skwenta and all he could say to me was:
    “What, it is Legal?”
    Is this where we want our state community headed?
    Just like Americans once thought the buffalo where “endless”, so too were Grizzly bears exterminated throughout much of the lower 48.
    Remember California still has this symbol on their state flag although the brown bears have not roamed in the Sierras for over 100 years.

    • Hey Steve. You’re obviously a passionate animal advocate and I won’t try to debate you on your personal beliefs, however, I will say that the states predator control isn’t done to make people feel safer, it is done to increase the number of ‘good’ animals in the state for harvesting purposes. While I wouldn’t hunt bears for food (just my personal belief), I have no problems other people hunting them for food as this does help our herbivore friends out.

      Cheers to you, sir!

      • Jack,
        I have been an ethical hunter since my youth, although I eat less meat these years than I once did.
        That said, I have NO problem with Alaskans hunting for food…this is not about that.
        I have personally spoken with F & G and feel there is a push to try and move bears away from the public interface with predator control tactics.
        I have a small cabin west of Skwentna and rarely see any bears these days near me.
        100’s of bait stations dot the Yentna Basin and dog food pellets covered in fryer greese attract both brown and black bears in to their range.
        Drunken clients from out of state sit in the woods (or lodge) and shoot bears as they feed from these steel drums.
        Mother bears with cubs are killed with little to no remorse by shooters.
        This is not what I learned about the natural connection with harvesting my own food.
        Why can’t Alaskans just deal with problem bears on their own?
        Predator Control only makes it easier for geriatric clients to kill, not safer for you or I in the woods.

      • Steve, if what you say is true (bait stations as far as the eye can see) then there shouldn’t be a bear problem, no?

      • Bryan,
        Come out of the darkness and think with an open mind.
        I speak of 1 river drainage in Alaska with “weekender” cabins and commercial lodges.
        AK is a large state…
        3,000 rivers counted I believe.
        The problem is the appointed pawns in the “political game” serve commercial needs…hence the shift in paradigm to bait stations under the guise of “predator control”.
        Biologists should understand introducing artificial food sources into the wilderness only further habituates animals and causes new problems unforeseen.
        My situation is unique, I do not see bears because the world class guiding operations all around me are killing them after spotting them with planes and “snow-gos” in Spring or popping them off one by one with bait stations.
        Places like Tyonek still allow large foot snare traps for bears under these policies.
        These are not “hunters” in my opinion since the animals caught suffer for days sometimes until the “trapper” comes back to finish the kill.
        Lastly, there is no requirement to salvage any of the meat from these kills.
        Why do you feel these practices are so good?

      • “Biologists should understand introducing artificial food sources into the wilderness only further habituates animals and causes new problems unforeseen.”
        I’m not buying this, Steve. You are going to have to back up your statement, here. I find it absurd in most areas of Alaska-it may be foreseen in an area such as yours where there are a lot of cabins and thus human activity. However, as for the rest of the State, I suspect the problems are just similar to the dump sites that every village has had (though these dump sites have been changing).

      • Steve, I am not one to favor snares. I think it is dangerous as hell (when you are talking bear) and the animal does suffer. But, keep in mind those out of state “drunks” you speak of generate $18,000-$25,000 per bear, $15,000-18,000 sheep and moose. Also, they do perform a small piece in predator control, as do the local hunters. Did you even deer hunt PA or MD? Where the mountainous deer are few and far apart and the urban deer, by the herds are laying in people’s yards, eating their shrubs, flowers, etc.. Like giant rats. Same thing here. Down in the Kenai there is a brown every square mile. Up on the Tundra it is what – one every 5 square miles? So, there somes a time when tradional hunting no longer applies and predator control becomes necessary. Also, traditional hunting makes a very small dent in any animal population. So, baiting in general increases ones chances of success, which is the name of the game here. Once there becomes more balance, I suspect baiting will become illegal. Have no fear, there is no shortage of bear. To include Polar bears.

      • Bill,
        Thanks so much for drawing my attention back to this hypothesis: “Biologists should understand introducing artificial food sources into the wilderness only further habituates animals and causes new problems unforeseen.”
        I have been looking for academic research to back up this belief/ observation that I have noticed over the years.
        My personal experience is from living with bears around my camps both in Alaska and Yosemite N.P. (Where bears eat whatever human food they can get their paws on and I could NOT shoot them)
        As you may guess little research has been done with artificial food sources to bears, especially bait stations…but there has been work done with primates.
        It seems “Vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) spent less time foraging and had higher reproduction but also increased aggression while feeding on garbage”
        This may explain the uptick in bear attacks since “Old Roy” covered in fryer greese and tossed in a 55 gallon drum sure looks like garbage to me.
        “The degree to which food supplementation has long-term effects on populations remains largely unknown. There are few long-term studies of the effects of supplemented feeding on nutrition in wildlife (Orams, 2002)”
        “Such food provisioning may affect food webs and communities, changing competitive and predator-prey interactions and nutrient transfer processes (reviewed in Oro et al., 2013), primarily due to ease of access in comparison to natural food sources (Bartumeus et al., 2010) which reduces time spent foraging (Orams, 2002).”
        This would be a great thesis for grad school!

      • You know Steve, I am finding a parallel situation in our national politics.
        The BS that’s been fed to the GOP by Don Trump has had unforeseen problems (although they are coming to light). And I suspect that the study of vervet monkeys might apply to other primates (us humans) more readily than to bears.
        While this is a bit tongue in cheek, it’s not totally.

      • Steve. The guide you speak of was no guide , or he would have been scared shirtless having you see him with dead cubs . As you are very wrong. It’s very illegal to kill sows with cubs in Alaska except dlp . You might still end crosswise . Guides get extreme persecution for breaking any game laws . They are regulated much much harsher than civilian hunters even when hunting on own. Guide license says target to law enforcement and courts . Most guides are just trying to make a living and it’s harsh to take their license and law enforcement is drooling to get the chance . Makes their day . No joke feel free to research stats . Totally destroys their chance of self support and living. So that tells me you either did inadequate research on who was a guide or they are flat b.s you . Guides these days mind their p.q . Mostly. To much money at stake . Machines,planes living ect . Law enforcement goes after these like Tropy hunters and git dibs at times on confiscated gear. There are many outlaw guides that are in out of prison that make others look bad but these are mostly guiding without license. 60 years ago very different. Now guides are very invested in resource scientific management. It truly pays to have high game populations. An interesting note is killing a large boar boosts bear populations. Look it up . Now making it easy to kill all large boar by baiting might be foolish as hunters come to get a chance at mature large bears . Now guides get policed hard . Now as to my personal opinion. Tree stand or bait station hunting is unethical . For Browns is anti Alaska history. I’m confused why we have it . Hope it goes away tomorrow as it demeans the fair chase ethics of real hunters and their efforts. It dismays and discusts me except for the handicapped, Or children . I’ve never trophy hunted a bear . If I did it would be one on one with a spear while the bear was fully awake . I eat what I kill even Browns . snares are unethical except danger bears so that’s pretty unethical in my opinion . I believe hunting and possibly guiding is more important to society now where so many have lost touch with the wild . Guides give a chance to do that . Hunting is not killing. The experience is the hunt . It also boosts Ak economy. I’m in a hurry so I apologize for poor writing just giving you some facts to inform. I know this probably puts me crosswise with your ethics but I think it’s important you get real information. That was not a real guide you spoke of . Wanna be illegal or plain liar . Killing sows with cubs or young cubs is illegal. Especially nursing and law checks the teats . Very hard to contra band out of state. Very very common for troopers to insert informant into hunt . He pays legit . You pull stunt like that loose it all and prison is probable. Guides want good management or they go out of business period . Outlaw contractors are bit different. They make it bad for everyone.

      • Opinion,
        You are wrong!
        Although it may be inactive today, when I saw this person a few years ago, the Unit 16 Predator Control plan was “Active” and yes he is still a licensed guide (for bears)…
        He is one of my closest neighbors (in the bush) and my former ex-boss, so I know the fellow in question pretty well unfortunately.
        AK rules stated:
        “the black bear control objective is to reduce the population to 700 black bears in the mainland portion of Unit 16(B); 
        i) legal animal is any black bear, including sows and cubs, and any brown bear, except sows with cubs of the year and cubs of the year;” 
        So although you could not take sow and cubs for brown….you could take them all for black bears and this is what he was doing.!2E122%27%5D/doc/{@1}?firsthit

      • It appears that:
        “(A) through July 1, 2021, the commissioner may authorize the removal of wolves, black bears, and brown bears in the Unit 16 Predation Control Area; 
        (1) This is a continuing control program that was first authorized by the board in 2004 for wolf control and was modified by the board to authorize black bear control in 2007 and brown bear control in 2011; it is currently designed to increase moose numbers and harvest by reducing predation on moose and is expected to make a contribution to achieving the intensive management (IM) objectives in Unit 16. 
        (vii) taking of bears by foot-snaring by permit only from April 15 through October 15; permittees must be accompanied by another person, age 18 or older, when conducting foot-snaring activities in the field; foot-snaring permits will be issued at the discretion of the department based on previous trapping experience, ability to help train other participants, and length of time available for participation in a snaring program; a selected foot-snaring permittee must successfully complete a department-approved training program, must be a resident 18 years of age or older, and report all animals taken by the permittee to the department within 48 hours of taking;”!2E122%27%5D/doc/{@1}?firsthit

      • Steve if you are right. Which sounds like you may be , I apologize. I will look into it .your links wouldn’t connect to anything for me . I have not heard of client drunken or not being allowed to shoot mothers with cubs . I had heard of predator control programs where private people can be permitted to do such things. Not to do with guides . Almost no hunter comes to Alaska and would accept doing that as his take for a 5-20k hunt.,now the issue I am speaking of is it’s unlikely a client could be involved in killing mother or cub except exception or accidental . Usually those permits are registered under one name . Takes pre efforts and time . Registration for each client improbable . Perhaps this specific permit was different. That needs looked at . Legally it’s unlikely. It appears you may have been speaking of just black bears – that was not apparent from your original writing. Almost no hunters come to Alaska to hunt blackies . Way to many other options in other states . Probably bait stations you speak of have little to do with guides and a lot to do with private people. (Hopefully someone very informed can provide correct information on law . )That’s why I say I’m pretty sure you were given incorrect info. That said my opinion is killing mothers or cubs except dlp is discusting and unethical especially from a bait station. Truly Deameans all hunters. Only exception is if they are harvested to feed very hungry people. Period . Killing mothers with cubs and purposefully using unethical methods is Not the way I grew up in Alaska and I’ve been a guide for aprx 25 years and held a registered license for a long time . I followed in others professionals footprints. When we became guides we agreed to follow fair chase methods.

      • Opinion,
        Just to clarify, the guide who killed those black bear cubs (a few years ago in unit 16 under predator control) was not with a client at the time…
        Currently, bait stations are used in 16 for clients with guides (for black and brown bears) but full “predator control” that allows sow and cubs (blacks) to be killed is inactive right now.
        Here is the main link to the program.
        If you go down to the link in 16 (AAC) you can click on it and view the specific rules that I have listed above.

      • Yep clients can take from bait stations. But that’s not predator control nor sows and cubs . Thanks for link !!! I was aware of the law change alowing brown grizz take from bait stands and despise it . Can’t wait for it to change back . Frankly I despise most of Alaska’s hard core predator control program . Using state funds for unethical messing with nature is pretty questionable. Helicopters tranq and neuter to mess with wolf packs ect very bad waste of money and crosses ethical lines unnecessarily. Thanks again for links though I have a freind who takes advantage of that poorly thought out program fully and keeps me pretty up to date .

      • Well Opinion,
        Ultimately we can trace this fiasco all back to one person….
        Sarah Palin.
        She was governor in 2007 and appointed Denby Lloyd as Commissioner and pressured Lloyd to move Rossi into a leadership role where in 2011 he placed Brown bears on the list as well.
        It seems the Walker administration (i.e. Sam Cotten) did not do much to stop this since “Predator Control laws” are still Active in 4 GMU in Alaska and brown bears are hunted “over bait stations” through out the state.
        “In late February of 2009, in Anchorage, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd, as promised, explained to me face to face how Palin family friend Corey Rossi came to hold a brand- new leadership position at Fish and Game.”
        “Gov. Palin, he told me, wanted Rossi — who at the time was a spokesman and board member of the new Alaska chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a predator-control advocacy group headed by former state Sens. Ralph Seekins and Scott Ogan — put in the vacant deputy commissioner slot. But Lloyd strongly refused.”

      • Good info . Any chance we get we should support a change back to more ethical standards. Perhaps an overhaul as I’m against all forms of sport baiting of bears even blacks . Only exception is perhaps young children under 12 and completely handicapped people with special permits. Subsistence or survival eating of bears is different issue . Do away with state paid predator control. Alowing predator control is ok if it’s up to minimum fairchase ethics . Baiting and stands is not ethical except for survival food supplies. I call that killing not hunting. Some unethical people even have a camera and smart phone app to monitor the bears . I say give the bears a fair chance and let them bait humans . There’s a joke for chad carpenter. Say a bear starts sprinkling an area with money while waiting in the trees . Wait till he gets a great heavy one to come in . Ahh there’s a winters food supply! Don’t accidentally take the skinny one ! Just kidding. That said if the law doesn’t revert soon we should all support and yell for its reversal. It makes Alaska look bad .

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