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Bear battles

A grizzly at the gate, Anchorage Hillside/anonymous

Despite government officials and residents of Alaska’s largest city quietly racking up more than two dozen bear kills this year, there were still a few bruins out roaming snow-covered Anchorage as Thanksgiving approached.

Most notable were a pair of grizzlies ranging the residential neighborhoods in the southern part of the city of 285,000.  Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle this week expressed the suspicion their dilly-dallying on the way to hibernation might have something to do with the easy availability of post-Halloween human treats.

“I don’t believe it has as much to do with the weather as it does the fact they’re still getting a lot of trash and birdseed,” Battle emailed.

The weather in Anchorage warmed up on Friday, but for most of the previous week, it had been frigidly old-fashioned, according to National Weather Service data. The temperatures for the week were two to 12 degrees below normal, and the wind-driven snow that usually sends lingering grizzlies toward their dens in the Chugach Mountains this time of year had blown in.

And yet, a resident of the Paradise Valley subdivision 1,000 feet above the southern edge of the city reported fresh grizzly tracks outside his house Saturday morning.

The fresh bear sign was not particularly welcome. Anchorage residents have learned to live with grizzlies in their midst, but some have come to long for the peace of winter when they can leave the bear spray at home and relax their situational awareness.

Bear-repelling pepper spray has become a common accessory carried by many on walks in their neighborhoods in parts of the city in this decade. And it is probably worth noting here at this time that researchers in the Lower 48 have found that the spray appears to work quite well down to at least 10 degrees below zero, a temperature uncommon in Anchorage in November.

The city rarely sees such temperatures as the record average low for the month reflects. It stands at 9.4 degrees and dates back to November 1955, according to the National Weather Service. 

There were not a lot of bears roaming the city in 1955. In part because the then 50,000 or so residents occupied far less bear habitat, and in part because the surrounding countryside was heavily hunted.

Urbanization and shifting attitudes toward predators has changed the city immensely.

Killing bears

Some are now offended that any bears are killed, though the animals can at times pose dangerous and deadly threats to humans.  Dozens of people have been injured by the bears in Anchorage over the years, and two people have been killed in the last three years.

Forty-four-year-old Michael Soltis went for a hike near his home in Eagle River on the northern edge of the city in June 2018 and was never seen alive again. He was attacked by a grizzly sow with cubs which appear to have viewed him as prey.

A year earlier, a similar sad fate befell 16-year-old Patrick ‘Jack’ Cooper near the small, roadside outpost of Bird just east of the city. Cooper had been descending a popular Chugach State Park hiking trail after a mountain-running race when he was attacked and killed by a black bear.

The fears that followed those two deaths likely played a part in boosting the Anchorage bear kill to a record 42 animals in 2018. The killings appeared to put a significant dent in the population.

Only six bears – two grizzlies and four black bears – were killed last year.

The lull didn’t last long, however. Fish and Game area wildlife supervisor Cynthia Wardlow this week reported 25 bears dead this year – five grizzlies and 20 black bears, a number near average for the decade.

And there is the possibility those numbers could grow if the grizzlies still out don’t head for their dens soon.

That Anchorage bears have managed to sustain a relatively high kill rate – what would be called a “harvest rate” in a sport hunting situation – is a good sign that the bear population in and around the city is large and healthy.

That bears get into trouble in Anchorage eventually to be shot is a sign of continuing problems with bear-human interactions.

Referencing a  “problem behavior continuum,” Battle said, the two grizzlies now seen with some regularity in the Oceanview, Southpark Bluff and Rabbit Creek neighborhoods “are probably the same two bears that we heard of off and on since spring, and saw a gradual progression of behavior.

“They were initially seen every so often down off the bluff (on the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge) feeding on natural foods – bird eggs, vegetation, moose calves, etc. Throughout the summer, we occasionally got reports of them being seen, usually in the middle of the night, in the yards of people that live on the edge of the bluff or the edge of parks, mostly on Ring cameras and the like.

“We did not start receiving reports of them feeding on trash until late fall/early winter. Now trash and birdseed are firmly on their menu, and we have to kill them if we can catch up to them.

“In between looking for the bears, we’re working with the (Alaska State) Troopers and Muni Code Enforcement to try to get citations issued to the people who are being negligent with their trash and birdfeeders, but it’s a time-consuming process.

“I saw the sow early Thursday morning (around 2:30 AM) on Oceanview, but she immediately reacted to the moving vehicle from 80-100 yards away, hightailing it into the woods. When they’re this skittish and cagey, it sometimes takes a while to catch up to them.”

City life

Like a lot of other Anchorage bears, this one seems to have learned how to live with humans and survive. That usually works right up until the point a bear gets a little too comfortable with life with humans.

Battle suspects that most of the bears killed in Anchorage have been living in the city for a time after moving in from the surrounding wilderness. The Chugach Park abutting the city is a half-million acres of wildland which adjoins the largely undeveloped Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER), covering about 80,000 acres to the west, and the wild Chugach National Forest to the west. 

“If I had to guess,” Battle said, “more of the bears that are defense of life and property killed or killed by agencies have been living here a while. It takes time for a bear to develop the behaviors that usually get them killed.

“They’ll start out smelling interesting odors from houses, then after a while, they get close enough in the middle of the night to grab some trash or birdseed.

“After they do that for a while they expand their hours and get more brazen because nothing has happened to them so far. Eventually, they’re coming at any time of day because humans seem to be harmless and they provide an endless, high calorie, high protein, high fat, food supply.

“It’s usually the bears that are pretty far along this continuum that at some point cross a line and either an agency or a citizen kills them. When they die, it creates a void to be filled by bears that disperse from surrounding areas like JBER, Chugach State Park, etc.”

The ultimate result of all this is that bear management in Anchorage is a never-ending process. Wildlife officials agree that if city residents were more responsible with their garbage, birdseed and dog food, and if they’d take the precaution of surrounding their urban and suburban chicken coops with electric fences, there would likely be fewer bear problems and fewer dead bears.

But given the wildlife reservoir on the edge of the city, it appears inevitable there will always be bears moving in and out of the city, and some of them will always get in trouble and be killed, only to be replaced by new bears dispersing from the surrounding wildlands.

And the best news might be that no Anchorage residents were killed or seriously injured by bears this year although a resident of Sunrise, an old mining community just across Turnagain Arm from the city, died as the result of a bear attack. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14 replies »

  1. Steve Stine, Please define your good reasons for killing animals? Are you asserting that only those who kill animals for needed food are ethical? You may find it interesting to know that we (humans) can obtain all our needed protein from vegetables and fruit. Now go convince the remainder of the flesh eating world to live that way.

    • When you look in the mirror tonight and see those 2 canines you’ll understand.. In addition fresh tenderloin over a fire is not only hard to beat for protein, the flavor is to die for. Excuse the pun of course. Man cannot live on Tofu alone.

    • Roses,
      In case you haven’t noticed…it is dam near impossible to convince anyone to do anything in this world.
      I am not promoting hunting, but do see a big difference b/w “sport” hunters and “subsistence” hunting (of which I participated in the later for over a decade when my money was short for food).
      These days I follow a 100 percent plant based diet and have for over two years but I understand not everyone can afford the increased monthly expense.
      Subsistence hunting helps many near the poverty line provide food for their family and the valuable resource of animals should be maintained for this reason…not for the “sport” hunters.
      You may be further interested to know that your body needs way less protein than many scientific studies lead you to believe.
      Good luck with your journey for all we can do is lead by example in this world.

      • S.S,while I could never see my self going full rabbit food,Ive noticed as I get older,I don’t mind eating less carbs(i.e,less bread and grains at times).Theres been a few days that do to poor planning on my part,all the lunch bag had was rabbit/fruit.And I didn’t mind.Cant see making a habit out of it, but things change.
        Ive also noticed that a good cold mid day fuji apple, usually keeps the sugar monster at bay.
        When I was a commercial fisherman, not sure I could have made it on leaves n roots.
        I have a great underused cook book by Russ Crandall,based on the idea that what our bodies want is somewhat affected by our genealogy.
        I bought it mostly because he makes killer dead meat n carb/sauce dishes.

      • Dave,
        Diet is such a personal choice, it is hard to sway folks one way or another.
        I came to my own reckoning after many friends in their 40’s started getting diagnosed with high blood pressure and many friends in their 60’s were having (or dying) from heart attacks.
        Equally as important (as the plant based food sources) was “weaning” myself off of processed sugars, honey, maple syrup, etc.
        I basically eat a lot of fruit, grains, veggies (including potatoes), nuts and dried fruit.
        Reinhold Messner wrote how he found out he could travel greater distances in the hills with less and less protein in his diet, especially when involved in activity.
        The truth is when you follow a plant based diet, you do not take in the cholesterol that causes coronary artery disease (the main killer in America).
        But you still get ALL the essential Amino Acids that your body needs.
        Plus your body uses exponentially less energy than it would during the processing of animal protein…in turn this energy can go towards healing & purging the body of toxins.
        John’s Hopkins medicine reports: “Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs.”
        The other side to eating more fruits and veggies (especially raw) is that your body (ligaments & tendons) stays more hydrated so you are less prone to strains, tears & tendonitis.
        I can personally say that after two years, my skiing distances have greatly improved, I am less sore in the mornings and my recover time improved.
        Eliminating caffeine also helped a lot, but this is one of the hardest drug to ever quit…greatly addictive and massive withdrawal headaches for up to seven days.
        Cheers!

    • It’s a real leafeater eat leafeater world out there!

      For the record I hunt for “sport” and to fill my freezer. And there is more to eating food that protein intake, lots more…not that fruits and vegetables could ever meet that actual protein need.

      • Steve o, ( dont take it personally) the next article i read after your linked article about decreased intelligence by plant eaters was a hard hitting article by myth busters that totally debunked your pro meat stance . As to my knowledge- plant eating is the way to go for self disciplined people with time to cook , research and shop. Also they must have the right biome for digestion and the right genes to handle plant based diets. Meat is easier for crones disease patients and gluten, bean and grain sensitivity, generally speaking. The correct biome helps vitamin and nutrient up take . To certain degree you can adjust biome by eating habits and poop implants . Athletes and digestive challenged people have started utilizing to some degree. To accomplish a plant based diet it takes self education and research for determining nutrient balance. You might consider being more discerning with your analysis of articles. Do a little more cross referencing and check the math . ( no offense just a suggestion for better quality knowledge uptake) i don’t recommend a solely plant based diet for most people or for children. It just takes to much work to accomplish success for people with average time constraints. That said its foolish to ignore the sience and say it cant be done or promote such a stance . Ive gotten to the point in personal development that i see it as unethical to eat animals that haven’t had freedom though i still do for practicality and lazyness/ undisciplined sake . ( I believe in liberty) that said I recognize it is reasonable to utilize animal farming for most of the US because survival is often about practicality not idealism. When in doubt a few extra packeged vitamins will fill in nutrient gaps for grown ups . Or maybe eating a few eggs if you are not ethically opposed. There are to many athletic success stories by vegetarians to dismiss the possibility of a vegetarian diet. At this point in knowledge availability only stubborn lunk heads dismiss the possibility. ( not a personal attack just a discriptor) Now what you might have miss understood in the intelligence regarding diet correlation is long term excessively reduced calories is prooven to at least temporarily reduce intelligence. The brain is affected. As are all organs apparently. Especially if calorie suspension is started real young . If you can provide links to medically well proven studies that determine plant based diets reduce intelligence then its certainly worth reconsidering and I would love to read them in depth. Because in my perfect world im searching for a viable excuse to only eat meat ,chocolate and sugar.

      • DPR,

        Thanks for the advice, I will take it under advisement.

        I would suggest you re-read what you just wrote and try to understand how they explain all of the lengths the people you are speaking about need to go to in order to even get close to getting proper nutrition.
        “self disciplined people with time to cook , research and shop”
        “must have the right biome”
        “right genes”
        “To certain degree”
        “poop implants” whatever that is, and yes I know what that it.
        “to some degree”
        “self education and research for determining nutrient balance”
        “It just takes to much work to accomplish success for people with average time constraints.”
        “extra packaged(sic) vitamins”
        “Or maybe eating a few eggs”

        You can do your own medical research DPR, you don’t need me for that. I was simply passing along an article to Bryan.

        Seriously poop implants, yep totally normal way to supplement a nutritionally whole diet! Haha, thanks for the laughs!

        Oh and ALL the meat in my freezers was either caught, killed, or otherwise harvested and processed by myself.

  2. What is “sport hunting”? Do you need a license? Where does one get a “sport hunting license” in Alaska? Is “harvest rate” only used in “sport hunting” ?

    • Although I do not like the name “sport hunting”, I define it as yahoos who go out and kill animals for no good reason other to see them dead & maybe tan a rug from their hide or mount their head.
      The opposite would be the ethical hunters that only harvest animals when they are in need of a food source.

      • So Steve, your definition of sport hunting, defines what government employees and public members do to thousands of coyotes, nutria, and ground squirrels yearly. “Just yahoos who go out and kill for no good reason”.

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