Turns out, if there are fish, grizzly bears visit the city

Anchorage residents love their creeks, their salmon and their bears, until they start to run a little too wild. The bears, in particular, ran wild this summer. Three people were mauled by grizzlies. A handful more were chased. One bear was shot because she and her cubs had become habitual threats to humans, a whole bunch of whom were so frightened they abandoned Far North Bicentennial Park.

The Anchorage Waterways Council on Friday night pulled together some experts on bears, fish and creeks, to discuss what to do.

"Obviously, bears have been a hot topic, a highly contentious topic," said Sean Farley, a bear researcher with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "We have some social decisions that need to be made."

The problem, as speakers quickly made clear to the standing-room-only crowd, is that those social decisions are tangled up in some sort of Gordian knot.

Almost everyone, and most especially the Waterways Council, wants to see Anchorage creeks filled with salmon. Along with being a sign that the creeks are healthy, the salmon, as Council executive director Holly Kent pointed out, nourish ecosystems with marine nutrients.

All kinds of critters benefit.

Unfortunately, grizzly bears — which can be a threat to humans — are among those critters. Anchorage each summer hosts close to a couple dozen, if not more.

"They're not really a wilderness species like we once thought," Farley said; they are simply a hungry species.

"Why the bears are here are the critical thing," he said. "It has to do with food. The bears are not here because they like us."

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