Easy pickings lure Sterling bear back to its death

Posted: Thursday, August 31, 2006

A brown bear darted and relocated to Mystery Hills from Sterling in May recently was killed after it returned to Sterling to forage on more trash and was injured in an unreported shooting.

“Someone shot it and didn’t report it, and we got a report that the animal was injured and that’s when we went out and put it down,” said Larry Lewis, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife technician.

Although the bear, whose photo was printed on the Clarion’s front page Tuesday, didn’t hesitate to wander into human territory, Lewis said it isn’t to blame.

“It wasn’t so much the bear causing problems,” Lewis said, listing food sources that had been left accessible to bears passing through Sterling.

“It was the same old story — garbage and chickens and coolers and everything else this animal was allowed access to,” he said.

Lewis, along with Fish and Game biologist Thomas McDonough, traveled to Sterling to put the bear down Aug. 3 after receiving reports it had been seen rummaging through trash and suffering from a gunshot wound to its leg.

Lewis and Thomas used signals from its radio collar, secured to the bear when it was relocated in May, to track its location.

They stopped at a house close to where the radio signal indicated the bear’s location, near the Kenai River, and asked the house’s owner if they had seen it.

“As we were talking to the home owner we looked two houses down and there was a big crowd of people staring down river,” McDonough said. “We went over there and sure enough they were all watching the bear.”

As the bear moved about, they could see the gun wound injury in its lower left leg.

“Pretty nasty wound,” McDonough said. “It had broken the bone and the bear was not putting any weight on it.”

August’s shooting was not Fish and Game’s first, or even their second contact with the 3-year-old sow.

In May, Fish and Game identified the bear as one of three cubs that was orphaned when a sow was shot on the Russian River in 2005.

The three cubs were tagged last year, and one would later be identified as the bear found rummaging in and finally shot and killed in Sterling this year.

“It was doing what a bear is going to do,” Lewis said. “It was going to find the easiest food source with the least amount of effort, and that’s what it found in Sterling, and plenty of it.”

After its release in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s Mystery Hills in May, the bear did not immediately return to Sterling.

“It ranged quite a bit after its initial release,” McDonough said.

Some of the areas it wandered past before returning to Sterling include Juneau Lake, Devil’s Pass, Turn Lake and the Russian River.

When the bear was taken to Mystery Hills, Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger said it’s not uncommon for a relocated bear to return.

Instead of relocating bears, the best way to deal with bear problems, Selinger and Lewis say, is to deal with the problems cause, by keeping food sources secure.

Lewis said the city of Kenai, for instance, has taken steps to reduce bear attractants and has had no reported bear nuisance problems this summer.

“There’s an example of a community that’s being proactive and helping to reduce the number of these type of incidents,” he said. “I think that the whole city is doing a great job.”

Private landowners and several local, state and federal organizations in Kenai have joined to support the Wildlife Conservation Community Program, a program that aims to reduce wildlife problems by promoting wildlife resistant bear containers and other proactive measures.

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