Temperatures might be down in Kodiak, but that doesn’t mean bear problems are down too. The local Fish & Game office has tracked down and shot three problem bears in town over the last week, and they’re reminding residents — not all bears hibernate in the winter.
Bears have been frequent visitors around Kodiak the last few months, getting into trash roll-carts, dumpsters, even breaking into vehicles. Nate Svoboda, area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game said they’ve been able to identify a few bears as the culprits.
“Unfortunately, as you can imagine, they’ve become conditioned eating non-natural foods,” he said.
Svoboda said they caught up to one of the bears, a very large one, early last week eating out of a dumpster on Selief Lane and put it down.
“This is the ‘big bear’ that everyone’s been talking about that’s been getting into dumpsters and roll-carts and everything else for the last couple months.”
The “big bear” was over 10 feet and weighed close to 1,200 pounds, Svoboda said. During a necropsy Wednesday morning, he said they found plastic and other trash in its stomach.
KPD shot the another bear eating out of a dumpster on Selief Thursday night, though it wasn’t immediately killed.
“It’s my understanding that once again the dumpster was left open,” Svoboda said. “Either that or there was trash left outside the dumpster which has been a pretty common occurrence unfortunately on Selief Lane.”
This bear was about eight feet tall, a six or seven-year-old male weighing about 900 pounds. Svoboda said the injured bear wandered only about 50 yards from the dumpster, and KPD, wildlife troopers, and Fish & Game were able to find the bear and put it down on Friday.
A few days before those two, Fish & Game put down another bear, a 6-year-old male around 600-700 pounds. Svoboda said they found that one at the exact same dumpster eating trash.
It’s a reminder that even in the winter, being “bear aware” is as necessary as ever.
The Alaska Department of Fish & Game recommends keeping all garbage securely indoors until the morning of trash pick-up. For dumpster users, make sure the bear-proof closures are securely locked.
A number of bears have also been breaking into cars lately, and Svoboda said it’s important to keep anything aromatic in a vehicle.
“Even car fresheners and things like that. These are things that bears can certainly smell and just based on their curiosity will often investigate those.
“Other things a lot of people forget sometimes,” he added, “if you live in an area that happens to be active with bear behavior — bird feeders, dog food on your porch, if you’re raising poultry or livestock, that can also bring them into your area. These are all things that people need to be aware of. And if you live in an area where with increased bear activity, I would recommend that you remove all that stuff, at least for the time being.
Fish & Game works with Kodiak Police and wildlife troopers to haze bears in town to get them to move on before they resort to putting them down.
“Once we have bears that are habituated to these foods and we tried to try some adversive conditioning trying to get rid of them through non lethal means. If that’s unsuccessful, sometimes we have no choice but to put the bears down.”
Referencing a study from a previous area biologist, Svoboda said that about 30 percent of male Kodiak brown bears don’t hibernate at all. And even though a colder winter like this one probably means more bears are opting to den, Svoboda said they’ve actually had more calls reporting bears this winter than the last few years. That’s likely because of trash problems, he said. When bears have a steady supply of food, they won’t choose to hibernate.
As in the summertime, Svoboda said it’s important to be cognizant that bears are out and about. Don’t leave trash outside or in vehicles, and ensure that bear proof dumpsters remain locked.