State to Relocate Problem Black Bears
April 20, 2015
After receiving waves of requests from the public to spare the sow and her four yearling cubs, Gov. Bill Walker and the department made a collective decision Saturday to instead relocate the bears.
“As we’ve previously stated, relocation is a short-term solution to what the department views as a long-term bear problem in Anchorage,” said Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten.
“However, we have heard from hundreds of good people who really do not want to see these bears killed.”
As a result, the department is making an effort to safely capture and relocate the animals.
“We would like public to know that the department views this less as an effort to give the bears another chance than it is to give the Anchorage residents another opportunity to shore up their trash and generally become bear aware to prevent these situations in the future,” said Cotten.
Public safety concerns led the department to its original decision to kill the bears. The animals have a history in Government Hill dating back to last summer when they began frequenting yards, streets and alleys to rummage through unsecured trash. Biologists have been called out frequently and have worked with residents, the Government Hill Community Council, and Anchorage’s Solid Waste Services to remove or secure loose trash.
The department monitored the bears last summer with the hope that neighborhood cleanup efforts and the availability of natural foods in the forests of nearby Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson would draw the bears away from populated areas. Lacking an available source of human food, bears will turn to more remote haunts for natural foods such as wild greens and berries.
Complaints received by the department dropped off late last fall after the animals presumably denned for the winter. Calls resumed a week ago, however, when Government Hill residents reported the animals had returned and were turning over trashcans, climbing backyard fences, and drawing throngs of photographers and onlookers.
Because the bears continued to return to Government Hill and were growing increasingly bold around people, the department believed an elevated response was needed.
“This was totally preventable,” said department wildlife biologist Dave Saalfeld. “Those bears were rewarded repeatedly with garbage and they weren’t going to stop coming back.”
Bears weren’t the only ones growing bolder. Onlookers and photographers were observed pushing boundaries on several occasions, sometimes creeping close enough to alarm the sow and prompt her to huff and pop her jaws.
“People weren’t respecting the bears’ space,” said Saalfeld. “They were getting too close and forcing the issue.”
Relocating bears for release is rarely a viable option. A black bear sow killed last summer on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus after becoming habituated to garbage had previously been relocated to a remote area near Elkutna only to return to Anchorage with cubs in tow a year later. Placement in zoos or wildlife facilities is rarely possible for black bear adults or yearling cubs.
Prior to last year, the Government Hill sow had been ear-tagged and temporarily collared by department biologists. The animal was tracked from JBER, through Government Hill and the city’s western fringes, to Turnagain and Kincaid Park. On its own in previous summers, the sow managed a lower profile, leaving urban trashcans as natural foods became prevalent.
Biologists warn that even with the five black bears relocated, trash problems left unresolved in Government Hill will continue to draw bears through the wooded bluff corridor connecting it to JBER.
The department reminds all residents in Anchorage and statewide to prevent drawing and conditioning bears to human-supplied food sources by storing trash inside buildings or in bear-proof containers; by keeping trash secured until the day of scheduled pick-up; to bring in bird feeders and clean up birdseed; to clean barbecue grills, especially grease traps, after each use; to feed pets indoors or clean up excess and spilled food between meals; to store pet food and livestock food indoors or in bear-resistant containers; to keep freezers locked in a secure building or otherwise out of bears’ reach; to plant gardens in the open, away from cover and game trails; and to compost raw vegetable matter only and turn compost over frequently.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
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