Is Someone Poisoning Sitka Bears?

This sow and cub were spotted in the Sitka area in August, 2013. A young male was found dead recently near Sawmill Creek Road. Officials say it may have been poisoned. (Photo by P. Mooney/ADF&G)
This sow and cub were spotted in the Sitka area in August, 2013. A young male was found dead recently near Sawmill Creek Road. Officials say it may have been poisoned. (Photo by P. Mooney/ADF&G)

Someone appears to be poisoning bears near Sitka’s Sawmill Creek Road. A young male found dead earlier this month may be the latest victim.

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Bears venturing into populated areas are sometimes killed in defense of life and property.

The state Fish and Game Department’s Phil Mooney says the 475-pound, four- to five-year-old brown bear was definitely not shot.

“There are no wounds on the bear, visible wounds on the outside. So the trauma took place in another manner. It could be poison,” he says.

He says the bear was found on top of bags of garbage it took from nearby homes.

Brown bears are omnivorous. So they have, at times, consumed rat poison, radiator fluid or other deadly substances.

Mooney says this time, it wasn’t random.

“I think it’s intentional. We’ve had a number of bears in that vicinity, since 2005, that have kind of died like this,” he says.

How many? Four, he says.

So, would it be accurate to say this could be one in a series of bears poisoned in that area?

“Yes, we believe that’s been the situation in that particular area for quite a while,” Mooney says.

He’s referring to a stretch of Sawmill Creek Road between Jamestown Bay and Whale Park.

Mooney says the bear was in pretty bad shape by the time he got to it.

He couldn’t do a full necropsy, but collected samples of blood and urine that he sent off for testing.

He has results from other bears that died in the area and will check for a connection. He also said garbage found at the scene could lead to action against its owner. But that would likely be for improper storage, not poisoning.

Mooney says this bear was one of a small number active in town this year.

“Sitka’s pretty lucky that we don’t get a lot of instances of bears breaking into buildings. We had one bear that pulled a screen out of a window earlier this year and tried to pull itself up to get a fresh pizza that had just come out of the oven and was sitting on the counter. And that was fairly unusual,” he says.

That bear was killed.

Mooney says three to four young bears have done most of this year’s trash-raiding, with an occasional older male passing through.

He says the bear season is nearing its end. But some will still be around for a while.

“Most of those guys around here have moved on. Typically, around the 15th of October, a lot of the sub-adults that are still with a sow, and cubs of the year, are moving up to their den sites and get settled in. But you’ll still have some sub-adult males and you’ll still have a couple of the big guys that will poke around for probably another month or month and a half,” he says.

He reminds residents to continue containing their garbage properly.

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Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska - Juneau
Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.