Crackdown on garbage sends Deadhorse bears inside for food

Posted: Monday, September 10, 2001

DEADHORSE (AP) -- The grizzly bears of Deadhorse have had a summer of trouble.

A crackdown on the availability of garbage has sent grizzly bears foraging for food inside buildings in this North Slope town just south of Prudhoe Bay.

So far, five bears have been killed because they wouldn't stay away from inhabited buildings and garbage, officials said Sunday.

The most recent to die was a 2-year-old male named Lucky. The 310-pound bear was killed early Friday by a North Slope Borough public safety officer after two days of running in and out of buildings, including three residential buildings and a testing laboratory.

''These bears are not aggressive, but they have the potential,'' said Dick Shideler, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game who has studied the Prudhoe Bay bears for a decade. No one has been hurt or charged by a bear up there, he said.

For years, bears were a big problem at the Deadhorse landfill and in Dumpsters around town. Then the North Slope Borough installed electric and chainlink fences around the landfill and bought bear-proof outdoor bins for kitchen garbage.

For the past year, the bears have been cut off from outdoor garbage. So a half-dozen bears began foraging indoors.

Before Lucky could be trapped, the bear went on a rampage that ended in his death. He walked into the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, a camp for oilfield support workers and visitors, late Thursday night and began eating from indoor garbage cans.

''Hey, there's a bear in the hall!'' hollered a woman staying there.

Joe Bob Brewster, owner of Alaska Drilling Services, heard the commotion and with another man tried to herd the bear outside. The bear grabbed a garbage can with his teeth and dragged it out the door. By then a public safety officer was there.

''He was sitting there eating from it when they shot him,'' Brewster said.

The bears are endearing to many in town. Tourists love seeing them saunter across the parking lot.

''It's kind of a sad thing. They were raised on garbage,'' said Les Dunbar, who runs the post office in town and has decorated it with pictures of bears she knows by name.

This summer, biologists have hazed the bears to try to get them back into the wild. They've lobbed bean bags and chased them with Karelian bear dogs. But a few bears kept coming back. Two yearlings were killed in July. Their mother was put down after breaking into buildings. Lucky's sister broke into the living quarters of Cape Smythe Air and was killed by employees.

Now there are just four town bears left, Shideler said. One, a big male they call Toby, has been around the buildings, too. But he also knows how to eat off the land. A few weeks ago, he was seen munching a muskox. Most bears that don't eat garbage live off ground squirrels and grass.

Shideler, meanwhile is encouraging the camp operators to install more secure doors. The North Slope Borough building in Deadhorse, for instance, has latches that take a thumb to operate.

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