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Dog lot attracts 3 bears

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska wildlife biologists are puzzled by the culinary tastes of three grizzly bears that appear to be favoring dog food over moose meat.

The bears -- a sow and two cubs -- have been loitering at the Chena Flood Control Project in North Pole for the last week. They showed up in a dog lot in a residential area near the entrance to Chena Lakes Recreation Area early Tuesday morning, more than three miles from a moose carcass they were seen feeding on last Thursday.

The change in behavior both surprised and alarmed wildlife biologist Don Young with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

''I would have thought they would have been on (the moose kill),'' Young said. ''That has me baffled a little bit.''

The bears in North Pole could be the same ones that have been visiting dog lots and homes in Two Rivers for the past two weeks. The two groups of bears have never been seen at the same time and nobody has seen both sets of bears to tell if it's the same family or two separate groups.

''The only thing that leads me to believe these might possibly be the same bears is that we've got bears coming into dog lots and acting very similar to the Two Rivers bears,'' said Young.

A camper reported seeing the bears coming down an Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. ramp, just outside the entrance to the recreation area, said borough park ranger Sasha Layos. ''By the time I got there the cubs were moseying on down the road,'' she said.

The sow joined them, occasionally sniffing the air as she walked down the road. The bears then disappeared into the woods.

Within a minute or two, Layos could hear dogs barking and found the bears in a small dog yard at a residence.

''The cubs were right in the dog yard eating out of the (dog) dishes,'' Layos said. ''They sat and chowed down for a minute. The dogs were freaking out but they had no concern for the dogs whatsoever.''

Layos drove her truck into the yard and the cubs bolted into the woods. But one of the cubs returned a minute later and started sniffing around a makeshift shed that contained several chickens.

''The cub sniffed the cage and the chickens started squawking,'' Layos said. ''That cub turned around and ran. The noise of the chickens and the rattling cage was enough to scare him off.''

If it is the same group of bears, Young said they may be learning to associate the sound of dogs barking to food. The bears got into some dog food in Two Rivers, though Young isn't sure how much.

Fish and Game has already decided to shoot one of the two cubs if the bears show up in Two Rivers again in an attempt to get the sow and the remaining cub to move on. If the bears in North Pole are different than those in Two Rivers, Young said shooting them with rubber bullets or bean bags could be a possibility.

That didn't scare off the bears in Two Rivers, Young said.

Either way, the longer the bears hang around, the chances of them getting into fatal trouble increases.

''They longer they're around the more opportunity they have to become food conditioned and more habituated to people,'' said Young. ''It's just a matter of time before they get in trouble.''



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