Relocation Program No Vacation for Bear

Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / June 3, 2004

A North Pole man shot a bear that showed up in his yard just eight days after state wildlife biologists dropped it off on a remote airstrip about 50 miles northeast of Fairbanks as part of a controversial predator control program in the McGrath area.

The big black bear was one of 35 that biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently caught and moved from an area around the Interior village of McGrath, the focal point in the state's crackdown on predators.

It was the second time in two years biologists had moved the bear, with each move costing approximately $1,000. Last year, the bear was dropped off in the Tanana Flats, more than 150 miles from McGrath, and it made it back to its home range in 21 days, Fish and Game public information officer Cathie Harms said.
This year, the bear was dropped off at Van Curler's Bar, a landing strip about 30 miles up the East Fork of the Chena River, on May 18.
"He was real good at homing last year and we had no reason to think he wouldn't this year and we were trying to put him farther away," she said.

Norm Damitz, 55, shot the bear, a 275-pound boar, early on the morning of May 26 after it climbed a tree in his yard on Becky Street off Bradway Road. He called Fish and Game after seeing tags in both the bear's ears, warning him not to eat the meat until June 2 because the drug used to tranquilize the animal was still in its system. He plans to have the bear's hide made into a rug at a cost of about $1,000.

The bear was caught on the Takotna River the last two years and was known for its tree-climbing ability, Fish and Game technician Laurie Stack said.

"Everybody remembers him because he's the big boar that likes to climb trees to get away," she said.

The 10-year-old bear was the second biggest of the 35 biologists caught and moved this year.

"He was a good-sized bear," Harms said.

That's an understatement, according to taxidermist Charlie Livingston at Alaska Wilderness Arts & Taxidermy, who fleshed out the hide and is making a rug for Damitz. The bear's hide measured 6 feet, 10 inches in length and squared at 7 feet and 4 inches. The skull measured just over 19 inches.

"It's a biiiiiig bear," Livingston said, adding that the hide is in prime condition.

Damitz said he awoke to the sound of his dog, McKenzie, barking a little after 5 a.m. last Wednesday. He went outside to see what the commotion was.

"I figured it was a moose," he said. "I got around there and there was a lump underneath a couple of trees. When it picked its head up, I could see its ears."

Worried that the bear might harm the dog and her six puppies, Damitz went inside and retrieved a .300-caliber rifle. When he came back out, the bear climbed 20 feet up a big spruce tree.

"Evidently he thought I was going to shoot it with a dart but I had other ideas," Damitz said.

He shot the bear and hit it but it wasn't a fatal shot and the bear climbed another 35 feet up the tree, he said.

"He was up there clomping his teeth at me," Damitz said. "He was really mad."

With only one bullet left in his rifle, Damitz decided to get a different gun and returned to shoot the bear again, this time with an open-sighted 30-caliber carbine. That shot knocked the bear out of the tree and Damitz shot it twice more to kill it.

There is no closed hunting season on black bears.

It's the first McGrath bear reported to be taken by a hunter this year. Hunters killed at least three of the 90 bears that biologists captured and moved last year.

This is the second year in a row biologists have caught and moved bears from McGrath in an attempt to help produce more moose for local residents in McGrath and surrounding villages. The program, which targets 528 square miles, is timed to coincide with the spring moose calving season from mid-May to early June. Studies by Fish and Game have shown that bears, not wolves, kill a majority of the moose calves that die each year.

"Our goal with the program was to reduce the amount of predation on moose calves by bears," Harms said. "It certainly wasn't part of the plan to have them hunted but if one of these bears gets shot, it's not a tragedy for the research management program in McGrath and it's not a tragedy for the bear population."

Damitz, who said he hasn't paid much attention to the state's predator control activities in McGrath, was disappointed he didn't get a chance to eat the bear. Damitz wasn't able to salvage the meat because of the required 14-day waiting period on the tranquilizer drug.

"We were going to eat him but Fish and Game said we shouldn't eat him," Damitz said. "It's too bad; he had two good hams on him and it would have made for some good eating."

News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at or 459-7587

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