Sitka has a downtown bear. Residents around Swan Lake have recently called in numerous reports of a brown bear getting into trash cans, raiding chicken coops — and even swimming in the lake. In fact, wildlife authorities in Sitka are seeing an uptick in bear activity all over the community — activity that is not especially unusual, as bears pile on calories in a final push before denning up for the winter.
There was something slinking around the lake last week. No it wasn’t the ‘Creature from Black Lagoon’ or the Loch Ness Monster, but it still made some Sitkans nervous.
On Oct. 17, the Sitka Police Department received word of a bear swimming in Swan Lake — an unusual sight, even in Sitka. It was seen again the next day, near Lake Street where people were lining up for the Alaska Day Parade.
That lake-lurking bear has been particularly active, even destroying property and eating poultry. And it’s not the only one. SPD received 13 bear-related calls over the weekend of Oct. 19 both around Swan Lake, the Indian River neighborhood, and out Sitka’s road system.
Wildlife Trooper Tim Hall says the uptick is not unusual — October is a hot bear month.
“As the salmon runs come to a close, the bears are still trying to put on weight for winter as a last-ditch effort. They tend to get desperate this time of year, we see most years. I wouldn’t say this year is out of the ordinary,” says Hall. “Having bears down on Lake Street might be a little bit out of the ordinary, but it’s certainly not unheard of.”
On Oct. 20 a Lake Street resident reported a bear had dismantled her chicken coop and all five of her chickens were missing. Later that evening, another Swan Lake area caller reported a bear caught and killed two of her ducks.
Hall says Sitkans living near downtown aren’t as accustomed to bear activity as residents on the outskirts, and consequently bears are meeting less resistance with trash and food sources.
“With bears moving further into town, there’s people that are less used to dealing with them,” says Hall. “The folks on the edges of the forest are used to having bears around, and it’s not as often that they’re getting down around Swan Lake.”
While tipping over trash cans is a nuisance, when bears start to threaten life or property, Hall says that citizens do have a right to use deadly force — although it’s not encouraged, especially without assistance from law enforcement.
“Around Lake Street that might be difficult to undertake by themselves. They should probably get a hold of the Police Department or Wildlife Troopers to assist with that because of the houses and things close by,” he says. “Discharging a large caliber firearm downtown is probably not a great idea in most instances.”
Hall says as long as food is available, the bear will continue to remain a problem.
“There’s no plan for a community bear hunt by any means. I think this problem will likely continue in that the bear will revisit those places because it has gotten food there,” he says. “If it does not get food there, it should move on.”
He says Sitkans should secure trash and other food sources, and consider using electric fences to protect poultry.