High above Alaska’s largest city in a subdivision on the edge of the sprawling half-million-acre Chugach State Park, a delinquent young black bear might well owe his life to a snout full of porcupine quills.
But for that injury, the cinnamon-colored bear – which has already broken into and ransacked one home and now has residents afraid to leave their doors open – would have been reported to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game days ago.
The quills, however, make the bear a sympathetic creature, and so residents have tried to ignore the troubling antics of this bear and a black companion, apparently a sibling.
Everyone knows that reporting a home-invading bear or beats to the authorities would ensure only one outcome: a bullet to the head.
“I think we all feel bad,” Glen Alps resident Joe Connolly observed over the weekend, “and don’t want to be the jury and judge, and call the executioner.”
Such feelings persist even if they mean Glen Alps residents can’t trust the screen doors on their home with temperatures in Anchorage in the 70s and pushing into the 80s or higher for those whose windows face a blazing midnight sun.
“My wife was in the living room, then went to the bathroom and heard a crash,” Connolly messaged. “(She) comes out and the bear had just opened the hideaway/rollaway screendoor and stepped into the living room. One step. She scared it out.
“…It’s 87 degrees inside….We don’t have any windows to open, just the sliding doors. So we made a rule: Bear spray next to you. Only leave the screen door open if you are in the room.”
The bear in question has already been pepper sprayed by others. The spray sent it away, but it came back.
“It’s not afraid of anyone at all,” Connolly said. “Pretty bold little fella.”
Dead little fella
Bold bears tend to die young.
Thanks largely to a Twitter post with photos of a friendly looking Hagg Lake, Oregon bear sitting very dog-like along a trail as if waiting to be petted, the whole country just got a lesson in what happens in situations like this.
When bears lose their fear of humans, they are judged a threat to public safety and killed. The Oregon bear became national news after its death. Humans were blamed.
People the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) accused “selfie-obsessed people who refused to leave this poor animal alone” of causing the bears death, though photographs don’t habituate bears. Easy meals thanks to humans – whether the food is table fare, garbage or handouts – are what condition bears to hang around people.
Connolly said he has a neighbor who feels bad about letting the Glen Alps bear get into his house, but it’s hard to be vigilant 24-7.
Unfortunately, once a bear discovers what tasty treats can be found inside human structures, the bear becomes a serious problem.
Modern humans live easy lives. Few among them could survive a return to living like our caveman ancestors. Once bears discover this secret, they don’t want to go back to living in the wild either.
Former Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the former politician and commercial fishermen he appointed Commissioner of Fish and Game, Sam Cotten, refused to believe in 2015.
They “pardoned” a family of five bears that had become garbage addicts on Anchorage’s Government Hill. Walker said he couldn’t see where the bears had done anything wrong.
“I’m sure there will be plenty of criticism about the governor getting involved in this,” he told the Associated Press at the time. “But I’m a person too. I have a soft spot for individuals in circumstances not of their own making.”
Plenty of people shared that soft spot.
The bears, “whose pending deaths inspired passionate public outcry both in Alaska and Outside,” were “saved,” wrote Alaska Dispatch News reporter Jeannette Lee Falsey.
For a few days, Walker was a local hero. The bears were tranquilized, captured and flown across Turnagain Arm to the wilds of the Kenai Peninsula. Biologists hoped the Arm, with its fabled bore tides, would keep the bears from trying to make it back to Anchorage.
Instead they followed their noses into the wind to the tiny Peninsula community of Hope. Just days after their release, Fish and Game was forced to notify Hope’s 200 residents that the bears that had been Anchorage’s problem now might be their problem, although the warning came couched with an optimistic observation the bears were spotted eating dandelions and might go back to living on wild foods.
“On Saturday, June 13, the Porcupine Campground host reported that the (radio-)collared bears had torn apart a campsite by shredding a tent, damaging a vehicle, and digging through coolers,” reporter Jeannine Jabaay later wrote in The Turnagain Times. “Previously, the bears had been credited to feasting on local chickens and acting aggressively toward a Boy Scout troop hiking near the campground.
“‘This isn’t the first time a tagged problem bear came to Hope,’ Fayrene Sherrit, the owner of Hope’s fine art gallery, told Jabaay. ‘The last time I can remember was several years ago when a large brown bear found its way to Hope. It caused all sorts of problems. And one day, it started coming into someone’s home, and they had to kill it.'”
Sherrit’s warning of the likely outcome with relocated bears was prophetic. Three days after Jabaay’s story ran, one of the yearling bears climbed into a van to join someone relaxing inside. That was enough for state wildlife biologists.
Over the course of the next two days, state and Forest Service shooters killed four of the five bears. The fifth bear ran off never to be seen again. It is possible the other executions left it with the message humans are to be avoided.
It is best for all that way.