Bear Relocated from McGrath Shot Dead in North Pole

TWICE MOVED: Bruin had found its way back home after previous flight to a new area

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / June 4, 2004

NORTH POLE -- A North Pole man shot and killed a bear that state biologists had recently moved from the McGrath area as part of a predator control program.

Norm Damitz, 55, shot the 275-pound black bear outside his home early on the morning of May 26. He said he was worried that the bear might harm his dog and her six puppies.

The 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.

Hunters killed at least three of the 90 bears that biologists captured and moved last year.

It was the second time in two years biologists had moved the 10-year-old bear, each move costing approximately $1,000.

The bear was dropped off May 18 at a landing strip about 50 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

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, state Department of Fish and Game public information officer Cathie Harms said.

"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.

The bear relocation program is an attempt to help the moose population 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.

Damitz said he awoke to the sound of his dog barking a little after 5 a.m. on May 26.

"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 puppies, Damitz went inside and retrieved a .300-caliber rifle. When he returned, the bear had 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 but it climbed another 35 feet up the tree, he said.

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

Damitz exchanged guns for an open-sighted .30-caliber carbine and shot the bear again, knocking it out of the tree. Damitz shot it twice more to kill it.

There is no closed hunting season on black bears.

Damitz 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 said he plans to have the bear's hide made into a rug at a cost of about $1,000.

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."

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