At a time when bears should typically be denning up for winter, Sitka has actually seen an uptick in bear activity. Two dogs have been killed in the last month, prompting the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to adopt a more active strategy in dealing with the bears.
Sitka area management biologist Steve Bethune says a combination of factors are keeping bears up and active.
“Unfortunately there are still people leaving trash out. And it’s hunting season right now, people are leaving their deer hanging on their porches,” he said. “And we have had really mild winters, or mild temperatures up until really recently.”
Over the weekend, a bear in the Indian River subdivision area did some serious property damage and killed a dog — the second dog killed in the last month.
On Saturday night, Bethune said, a homeowner had left a processed deer securely hanging in a sturdy, enclosed shed in his backyard. But that didn’t stop the very determined bear.
“The bear tore through a wall of that shed, so it really made a tremendous effort to get into the shed and it took the deer. And then, at the same time the homeowner’s dog went missing,” he says.
Bethune says some neighbors discovered the bear had killed the dog and cached its remains in the woods. After removing the dog’s remains, Bethune and a wildlife trooper staked out the site until dark.
“We were prepared at that point to kill the bear and it never showed up,” Bethune says.
So he set up a trap next to the woods, a large steel tube with a doorway that closes when the bear pulls on the bait hanging at the opposite end. But he is also looking at other trap options, because he says while this method works for black bears, brown bears are more hesitant to enter an enclosed space. Either way, he’s monitoring the situation closely.
“I was on call all night last night, and I have remote trail cameras monitoring it so I can see what time the bears are checking it out,” said Bethune.
In general, Fish & Game has been hesitant to dispatch a bear. When bears are getting into trash that’s left out by humans they often say the animals are “doing what bears do” and remind people to be vigilant. But Bethune says that this bear has done enough damage to warrant more aggressive measures.
“We want to kill this bear,” he says. “We’ve had two dogs killed in the last couple of weeks and that’s just going over the line. With all of the problems we’ve had, it’s a public safety issue now,” said Bethune. “But it’s really difficult, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack at times.”
He says there may actually be two bears in the Indian River area, an adult bear and a large cub. After a recent snow, residents reported two different sized tracks.
Bethune says, as always, Sitkans should remain vigilant about trash, process deer quickly, and call in any bear activity to Fish & Game. He stresses the importance of notifying the authorities, because he’s heard a lot of bear sighting stories “through the grapevine” that have gone officially unreported.