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Young garbage bears at Deadhorse euthanized

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Two yearling grizzly bears that had become habituated to humans and drawn to garbage at the North Slope oil field outpost of Deadhorse were euthanized this week.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Friday blamed the careless disposal of food waste for getting the cubs used to an easy meal and therefore used to people.

''These bears died because of sloppy habits,'' said state biologist Dick Shideler.

As many as a half-dozen grizzlies roam in and around Deadhorse, Shideler said, but they avoid humans. The cubs, on the other hand, ignored every attempt to haze them away, including the final try Tuesday after Shideler and another state biologist, John Hechtel, discovered the bears in a maintenance garage.

Despite attempts to scare them off, the cubs repeatedly entered the shop's open bay doors.

''They're absolutely fearless,'' agency spokesman Bruce Bartley said. ''They don't respond to the bang-at-them, yell-at-them classic deterence.''

When the bears walked to a nearby refuse container, the biologists tranquilized them. The animals were euthanized on Wednesday.

''Pretty much everybody is kind of sad,'' said Phil Stone, who works at the Alaska Airlines counter in Deadhorse. ''Everyone watched for them. Tourists would come up and ask about them.

''It's a small family of people up here. They were just part of the family,'' he said.

The bears moved freely around Deadhorse, an outpost of industrial buildings that provides support for the nearby oil field operations of Prudhoe Bay.

''They certainly are adapted to climbing ladders and stairs and stairwells,'' said North Slope Borough police officer Don Grimes. ''You'd have thought they were circus bears. They were just very agile and mischievous, just a couple of characters.''

But the bears were never aggressive, he said.

Fish and Game considered relocating the bears, but decided against it, Bartley said. Bears can return hundreds of miles to their home ground, he said. Moreover, relocation doesn't change the behavior.

People who thought the bears would be moved were distraught to find they had been destroyed.

''I think it's just sickening they used their last option first,'' said Dawn Carpenter, another Deadhorse worker.

The bears used to feed at a garbage dump on the outskirts of town until the dump was closed a few years ago, Grimes said. The animals then moved on to trash bins, trash cans and camp kitchens.

''The dump is closed. These bears were raised here. They don't know how to survive anywhere other than Dumpsters,'' said David Endicott, a materials expeditor for Veco Corp. who has worked in Deadhorse for 22 years.

''It's not their fault they're in this situation,'' he said.

Fish and Game and the North Slope Borough came up with bear-proof bins, but not everybody uses them, Bartley said. The two bears would find food scraps in refuse containers meant for nonfood trash items, he said.

The bear fatalities were the first in at least a decade. Records indicated only four bears have been killed in defense of life or property since the Deadhorse facilities were built in the late 1970s, Fish and Game said.



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