Wolf Song of Alaska News

Bears Resume Hunts for Easy Urban Meal

Flurry of Calls: Bruins make presence felt on city's fringes

Megan Holland / Anchorage Daily News / May 26, 2006

A black bear was shot and killed in Rabbit Creek on Wednesday night by a man who caught it on top of his chicken coop, and a second bear was trapped on Elmendorf Air Force Base.

After a long winter of hibernation, bruins are back in town. Rick Sinnott, the state Department of Fish and Game biologist for the Anchorage area, said the bears are once again wandering subdivisions and neighborhoods on the fringes of Anchorage in search of an easy meal.

Most problem bears will end up dead, he said. Or, like the one trapped on Elmendorf, shipped to a research program in Fairbanks for a season of study before being destroyed.

On Wednesday, a resident off Golden View Drive in south Rabbit Creek told Sinnott he had chased a small female black bear, probably 2 years old, away from his property several times.

Then he spotted it at the edge of the woods, chewing one of his 15 chickens. When the bear went for the coop, the man shot it with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Sinnott said the man was not cited. But the biologist said he thinks it's not a good idea "to have chickens or bunnies against a half-million-acre area with bears in it."

Meanwhile, on Elmendorf, a 150-pound female black bear was trapped near the mess hall, lured by old kielbasa sausage and raw bacon. The base's trash containers have bear-proof locks, but a few are broken.

This bear found them about a week ago, said Herman Griese, the base's wildlife biologist.

Base officials first noticed the bear last year when she was prying open trash bins near the living quarters and mess hall. She was tagged and chased north back into the woods, Griese said. And, against the biologist's wishes, the animal was given a nickname: Sadie.

"They are not pets," he said.

Julia Tolin, manager at Church's Chicken, one of several outlets at the food court in the Joint Military Mall, said bears have been visiting the area behind the building this year. It is a normal part of training for all employees, she said, to look both ways when opening the back door that leads to the trash containers.

Griese said several tickets for inappropriately disposing of garbage have been issued to food court employees.

Somewhere between one dozen and two dozen black bears regularly wander on the base, Griese said. Several brown bears also visit. He said he has had a flurry of calls about the bears on base this week. Most, he said, were for Sadie.

Now Sadie will be known as No. 153 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology. She will be one of several captured bears used next winter by scientists studying hibernation, said research associate Oivind Toien.

The bears are later euthanized.

"We at least extend their lives from some weeks to maybe nine months," he said.

The first bear sightings in Anchorage this year began in late April, Sinnott said. For the first several weeks, the bears stuck close to their den sites. Over the past week, they have become bolder, following their noses to trouble.

"It is all a matter of food conditioning. They are associating humans with food," Sinnott said. "They are really looking for garbage and pet food and bird feeders. They are not man-eaters."

The bears in Rabbit Creek and on Elmendorf are the first casualties of the trash and encroachment wars this year, Sinnott said. "We are wasting all this time shooting bears but it's not doing any good until we get control of the garbage."

Last year, 12 black bears were shot in Anchorage. Three others were sent to Fairbanks for research.

Daily News reporter Megan Holland can be reached at mrholland@adn.com.

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