It may be because people are finally starting to act more responsibly with bear attractants, or possibly last year so many bruins -- many of them sows with cubs -- were killed by people not acting responsibly, but one thing is clear this summer: negative interactions between bears and humans are way down.
"It's not going too bad this year. We've only had three DLPs (defense of life and property shootings) to date," said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
By mid-July last year, the DLPs were more than double this number, and by the end of 2008 there were a whopping 40 brown bears that died as a result of human-caused mortalities. Of these 40 brown bears killed, 31 were DLP shootings and 17 were shot by members of the public.
As to the nine brown bears that died as a result of human-caused mortalities that were not related to DLP shootings, one was hit by a vehicle while crossing the road, two were killed during legal hunts, two were shot by black bear hunters who misidentified them, one was a bear euthanized after it was reported and found to be mortally injured, one was a cub euthanized after its mother was shot and a home could not be secured, and two bears were found shot dead and never reported to Fish and Game by the shooters.
As to this year's DLP's, one was a yearling male shot near a dwelling at the end of Denise Lake Drive, off Mackey Lake Road.
"We responded to a call about a bear limping severely. We saw it was injured and decided it had to be put down," Selinger said.
Once the animal was dispatched, closer examination revealed that someone had taken a pot-shot at the bruin, and not only botched the job, but didn't report the potentially dangerous situation of wounding a bear to Fish and Game.
"I'm about 95 percent certain it was shot. It had what appeared to be a through-and-through bullet wound that was festering and necrotic," Selinger said.
The second DLP of the year was an adult male killed off Swanson River Road, but Selinger could not comment further because the incident is still under investigation.
The third DLP was a subadult bear that was killed near the community of Sunrise, off of the Hope Highway. The sex and details of this bruin's death are also unclear at this time, since the person who shot it took the salvaged carcass to the Fish and Game office in Anchorage, rather than Soldotna.
In addition to these three DLPs, five brown bears -- one male and four females -- were killed during the spring brown bear hunt.
"One was harvested just outside the city limits of Seward, two were taken at the mouth of the Moose River, one was shot off of Robinson Loop, and one was taken on the Fox River Flats near the cattle-grazing lease area," Selinger said.
While , the number of DLPs so far is lower than in past years, Selinger said there is still a lot of the warm weather season left for things to take a turn for the worse. This is particularly true for the notorious Russian River area, where both bears and people not savvy in the ways of safely co-existing with bruins, are numerous at this time of year.
"As the late-run of sockeye starts, we might see more issues," Selinger said.
Last year, eight bears were removed from the area after learning to feed from unsecured coolers of food and on the improperly disposed of fish carcasses that lined the banks.
Selinger said he visited the area in late June and, based on what he saw, not all anglers are observing the recommendation to gut and gill their catch streamside, and then carry the fish out whole. It was also obvious that anglers who were opting to fillet their catches streamside, were not cutting the remaining carcasses into numerous pieces to be thrown into the deeper, faster flowing current.
"As soon as I pulled in and got out of my truck, I could smell rotting carcasses, and when I walked down to the water, there were piles of them on the banks. It was the worst I've ever seen it," he said.
As the much larger late-run of sockeye begins, anglers are asked to be more conscientious with their catches, but the burden of being responsible falls on more than just fishermen. All peninsula residents and visitors need to remain vigilant to reduce attractants, according to Selinger.
This includes having garbage in bear-resistant containers and making frequent trips to the dump to haul it off. Chest freezers full of fish, moose and other food items should be secured with ratchet straps or locking latches, while coolers and edible items in campgrounds should be kept in secure locations, and never left unattended outdoors, he said.
Native birds should be provided only with a bird bath, not seed or suet in summer. Residents should also make sure beehives and livestock -- such as pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits -- are protected with three to five strands of electric fencing, and ensure that livestock and pet feed is indoors or stored in a secure place, he said.
For more information, call Fish and Game at 262-9368.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at email@example.com.
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