By ALEX deMARBAN
Anchorage Daily News
June 19, 2006
Grizzlies - the black bear's larger, more powerful cousin - are increasingly wandering into town and other nearby communities along the Seward Highway, putting people and pets at risk, they say.
Some residents blame hunting restrictions that helped the bruins flourish elsewhere on the Kenai Peninsula and expand into new territory. Other possible factors: more people living in remote areas and getting into the wilderness.
Whatever the reason, reports of brown bear sightings are rising between Seward and Moose Pass, 31 miles up the highway, wildlife officials say.
Especially last year, said Jeff Selinger, Kenai-area biologist for the Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna. Residents killed at least three brown bears. A wildlife officer took the life of a fourth nuisance bear. Usually none are killed in the area.
There were more than that, said Daniel Unrein, a 35-year Seward resident. People killed five within a mile of his house, he said.
"People don't say everything, because if they do, Fish and Game may get 'em in trouble," he said. "The bears are just getting way too many near here."
He's certain a brown bear chewed 6 inches off his husky's front leg last summer. No one saw the attack, but the day before, a bear as big as a horse roamed through the yard and stole food from Mikey's dish, said Unrein, 63.
Now a fence protects the dog. Unrein, breaking with habit, keeps a shotgun loaded in the house. Kids playing in the area could be mauled, he said.
"If I see that bear again I'm just gonna blast him," he said. "I'm not gonna ask any questions."
Seward, situated at the head of Resurrection Bay next to 600,000-acre Kenai Fjords National Park, has commonly been black bear territory.
Common knowledge said brown bears didn't inhabit the eastern Kenai Peninsula until about five years ago, said Lt. Brandon Anderson with the Alaska State Troopers. They preferred to live on the west side, where there's more salmon and moose to eat.
But that's changed, he said. At least four wandered through the seaside hamlet last year, including near the school and airport, said Anderson, a Seward resident since 1992. Another five have been spotted in Seward and Moose Pass this year.
Park officials the last two years have seen brown bears moving east toward Seward along the Resurrection River outwash, said park superintendent Jeff Mow.
"That's notable for us," Mow said. Brown bears have been a rare sight in the park, bounded on the north by the river, until recently, he said.
"There's brown bears all over the place around town," he said. "One came down my driveway last summer."
People aren't helping, said Sgt. Rex Leath, head of the troopers post in the area. Many residents are careless with trash or leave food at campsites, he said.
One cub on a Seward beach recently entered an unattended tent and ripped open a backpack containing food, he said. Another bear was seen munching garbage out of a truck bed in Moose Pass.
"Some individuals have
said they're prepared to defend their property, and the first
thing we've told them is make sure you put up all attractants
first," Leath said. "It's not the bear's fault if a
person attracts it."
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
Publish A Letter on SitNews Read Letters/Opinions