Bear Sightings Spike in Anchorage Neighborhoods

Unsecured trash can attract unwelcome ursine visitors -- and a hefty fine

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / May 15, 2004

It's green. It's May. And Anchorage bears are prowling.

A brown bear sow with two small cubs has been reported meandering across Far North Bicentennial Park, with sightings near the new baseball fields off Abbott Loop on Thursday and by Service High School late Thursday night.

Hillside resident Chris Sheldon was driving home about midnight when he spied the three animals running along Abbott Road beneath a street light.

"They hooked a left right into somebody's driveway," said Sheldon, who slowed down for a peek before moving on. The cubs "were brand new this year, and she was very agitated. She was ready for a fight ... rolling from one of her four feet to the others."

Less than a day earlier, a black bear tore into garbage left outside a home in a neighborhood off Dowling Road just west of the park, prompting state biologists to issue the first $110 ticket of the season.

Taken with reports last week of a brown bear nosing through Eagle River garbage -- later running into the woods with an empty can in its mouth -- state biologist Rick Sinnott says it's past time for people to secure trash, stow bird feeders and start paying attention on the trails.

"Hillside and Abbott Loop Road residents should be very careful with garbage, bird seed and pet foods," Sinnott said in an e-mail message. "People who use Bicentennial Park and Campbell Tract should be especially cautious this summer and make noise or travel in groups to avoid surprising the sow at close range."

State law prohibits careless feeding of bears, moose, wolves, coyotes, foxes or wolverines. Homeowners who leave out garbage that attracts bears could be fined $110.

Although several citations were issued last year to people in Eagle River, the citation issued Thursday to a Doil Drive resident was the first given in the Anchorage Bowl, said assistant area biologist Jessy Coltrane, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Expect more soon, she said.

"The entire street is an accident waiting to happen," Coltrane said. "They've had bear problems there in the past, and there were bears in the garbage there all last summer."

After responding to complaints, on Thursday Coltrane and Sinnott found that a bear had ripped open garbage bags stored on a back porch the night before, leaving prints in the mud and hair in the yard.

"The bear hasn't shown any aggression toward people as far as we know, but any time you bait a bear into a neighborhood, or give a bear a reason to stay in a neighborhood, the chance of a surprise encounter increases dramatically," Coltrane said.

Karen Deatherage, of Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage, said she planned to distribute notices and door hangers in the neighborhood to encourage people to be more careful with trash.

Sinnott said the biologists would continue to monitor reports of the brown bear sow. An estimated 50 to 60 black bears and a dozen brown bears have territories that overlap residential areas in Anchorage and are always around during summer, whether seen by people or not.

The sow has so far avoided garbage and stayed out of trouble, and Sinnott said he expects the bear will eventually fade into the mountains with her cubs. But he will haze the animal if it hangs around near houses or schools.

Sinnott speculated that the sow might be looking for newborn moose calves. He urged people to report moose kills near trails or houses to Fish and Game.

"We try to move these moose so that the bear won't stick around and defend the carcass," he said.

Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'

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