17 bears killed in Anchorage this year

If Anchorage continues killing at the current pace, the city may set a record for dead bears this year thanks to unplanned run-ins with humans.

As of Wednesday, 17 bears had been killed in Anchorage, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Fifteen were black bears; two were brown.

The city's most recent bruin fatality was Wednesday morning on Elmendorf Air Force Base. The bear, a tagged female known as "709," was lured into a culvert trap with Cinnabons, then shot dead.

Also on Wednesday, Fort Richardson officials captured a 4-year-old black bear in a residential area on the post. The bear was sent to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for research. It will be killed in the spring.

The night before, on Tuesday, at least one black bear, possibly two, were killed in Girdwood, said Fish and Game biologist Rick Sinnott. He was still waiting Wednesday for the full report to find out what happened.

Sinnott can't explain the uptick. In some years, bear numbers in Anchorage grow because three years prior was a particularly good berry or fish season, resulting in a bumper crop of cubs, he said.

Bears are lured into the city by garbage, bird feeders and any other food that humans leave out, Sinnott says. For years, he has been campaigning to get residents to put away their food and lock up their garbage in bear-proof containers.

People may also be a little trigger happy this summer after the mauling of a 15-year-old cyclist in June in Far North Bicentennial Park, Sinnott said.

Research has shown an increase in humans shooting bears after well-publicized bear attacks, said Bruce Bartley, spokesman for Fish and Game.

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

In 2005, that record was tied, with 19 shot and two hit by cars.

This year's 17 is significant in that we are only in mid-July, Sinnott said.

The first bear killed this year was on May 18 on the Hillside. David Tisch came home to find a 225-pound black bear had torn open his screen door and entered his home.

Other deaths include a black bear cub hit by a train June 28 or 29 on Elmendorf.

On June 30, a brown bear was hit by a car on the Glenn Highway.

And, on July 4, a wildlife trooper, Joe Whittom, shot a black bear and its two cubs in East Anchorage. He could not scare the bear away from a garbage can, despite shooting it with rubber slugs, Sinnott said.

The bear slapped the ground and refused to go. After Whittom shot it, he realized the bear was protecting two cubs in a nearby tree. It would not leave without its cubs.

The cubs were also shot because nobody wanted them. To leave them meant certain death from starvation, dogs or other predators, Sinnott said.

The owner of the trash that attracted the mother and cubs was given a ticket. At least a third of the residents in the neighborhood had garbage stored outside in open containers, Sinnott said angrily.

"These residents killed those three bears as surely as if they pulled the trigger," Sinnott wrote in an e-mail.

"As usual, the lazy, negligent, clueless, and antagonistic behavior of humans has resulted in the deaths of bears."

Garbage also attracted "709" to Elmendorf on Wednesday. The female, recognizable because of its orange ear tag, was first captured and marked on the base in the early-1990s. It had a long history of teaching its cubs to forage for garbage but this year lost its fear of humans altogether, said Mark Sledge, chief conservation enforcement officer on the base.

Sledge, who started dealing with the bear in 1994, said this year it sauntered around playgrounds where children were playing. It scanned for food on porches. Base officials futilely tried to haze it more than 20 times, but it was undeterred.

"It just got to the point where it was a public safety issue," he said.

Fish and Game is often able to send black bears to UAF for research, but the university doesn't need any more this year, Sinnott said.

Bartley, the Fish and Game spokesman, said relocating the animals is not an option. It is expensive and it just doesn't work. Bears either find their way back to their old stomping grounds or end up invading another bear's territory and get killed that way.

About 250 black bears live in around Anchorage. At least a third of them spend their summers in or near residential areas. At least 65 brown bears also live here.