Urban Bear's Days May Be Numbered

EAGLE RIVER: Grizzly is getting too bold,
expert says; other sightings surge in city

Doug O'Harra / Anchorage Daily News / June 26, 2004

A young brown bear consumed its second moose calf of the week inside an Eagle River neighborhood early Friday, and a little black bear raided garbage in Spenard later in the afternoon.

This surge in urban bear activity -- typical for Anchorage in late June -- comes after a season with more brown bear sightings than normal, including an unverified report of a grizzly in the brushy Sisson Trail area of Kincaid Park on Thursday.

The bold Eagle River grizzly has alarmed residents in the dense neighborhoods above the river and pushed state biologists to consider killing the bear. It has been raiding garbage and bird seed on some streets, and generated at least 100 complaints since spring. It is thought to be the same animal that ripped down two fences on Sunday to get at leftover barbecue fixings behind a house on Danny Drive. On Wednesday, it killed another calf in a driveway on South Mitkof Loop.

After removing the second carcass from a bike trail off Babrof Drive on Friday, state biologist Rick Sinnott said incidents were escalating. Although the bear hadn't been reported to act aggressively toward people, it was regularly feeding near housing and could not be safely transplanted to another area of the state.

"We just don't move bears that are food-conditioned," said Sinnott, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "We're not going to take an Anchorage problem somewhere else. I still want to bounce (the decision) off a few more people, but I think this bear's days are numbered."

But what to make of a black bear on Malibu Road, a few blocks off Anchorage's most storied street just south of Northwood Park?

"It was quite a shock," said Margritt Engel, a retired German professor from the University of Alaska Anchorage. "My husband came around the corner of the house -- and there was a bear in the garbage can! I mean, this is Spenard, and we've lived here since 1977. We've had moose in the yard like everybody else, but never a bear."

The small creature bolted at the approach of a pickup truck, Engel said, apparently galloping into the dense patch of wetland and woods across from Northwood Elementary School.

"I stayed in the house simply because, well, because of all we've heard, that bears can run fast," Engel said. "I don't run so fast."

Sinnott agreed it was odd to have a bear in Spenard, but figured the animal might have wandered up Fish Creek from the coast, where there had been a recent report of tracks.

"I don't really consider this to be any more dangerous than a raccoon at this point," he said. But "I would suggest that it's time to put your garbage inside, if you don't already have it there."

A young black bear sampling urban treats for the first time would be a good candidate for a one-way trip to the mountains, Sinnott added. "If I get a chance, I'll put an ear tag on it, and move it 30 to 40 miles out of town, and give it one more chance."

Black bear sightings, and overall reports of garbage problems, have been down from last year. But glimpses of the much larger brown bears have increased.

A sow was killed off Goldenview Drive and its twin cubs taken to the Alaska Zoo, and other bears have been seen on the Hillside. The bear in Eagle River was among several that began eating garbage in neighborhoods overlooking the river last summer and fall.

The report of a bear in Kincaid came from visitors who weren't sure that "the round brown shape" in the jungled forest was a bear, Anchorage outdoor recreation manager Ronn Randall said. As a precaution, the park staff posted warning signs.

"It's just to give everybody a reminder that it's bear country and they should be always aware," he said. It's not unheard of for grizzy bears to show up in the park, although it's unusual. Black bears are seen there more often, but aren't a common sight either.

So far this spring, at least four people have been fined $110 each for attracting bears to food, including a man cited on Sunday when his leftover barbecue brought the problem brown bear right through his and a neighbor's fence, state wildlife protection officer Kim Babcock said.

Three days later, an animal thought to be the same bear killed a moose calf and was videotaped while it ate the animal alive in a driveway in the Eaglewood subdivision.

Sinnott and assistant biologist Jessy Coltrane searched in vain for the same animal on Thursday night, after a resident in Geese Circle reported it running through a yard.

About 5:30 a.m. Friday, another calf was found mostly consumed by a bear about 25 yards down a nearby bike path, said resident Clarence Milster, who was out for a jog.

"I'm an early riser and I jog through the whole subdivision," said Milster, a retired Air Force policeman. "Just recently I started carrying pepper spray because of the reports of the bear, but I'm not letting it change my lifestyle."

"I think a number of homeowners are getting very worried about this bear -- they were worried about it after it killed the first moose calf," added Doug Maxfield, operations manager for Eaglewood Homeowners' Association. "I think a lot of people are beginning to think that they would like to see the bear darted and removed from the area."

That can't happen, Sinnott said. "If we think this bear can't be in this area any longer, we will shoot it."

Sinnott blamed the bear's fate on scores of people leaving out garbage the night before pickup, basically "baiting" the bear into the neighborhood over and over since last summer.

Maxfield insisted that the Eaglewood subdivision, with 929 homes, has not had reports of the bear in garbage this year and that residents have been much more careful with their trash since the problems in 2003.

That's partly true, Sinnott responded. But the bear has been into garbage and bird seed in adjacent subdivisions, Eagle Ridge and Eagle Crossing, and many people in Eaglewood still leave their trash cans out all night.

"It's not like the problem is solved" in Eaglewood," he said.

Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'harra@adn.com

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