Anchorage officials take steps to manage local bears

Posted: Wednesday, October 03, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State biologists will organize a task force to plan how to manage bears, which have been showing up in abundant numbers in many parts of Anchorage this year.

The group this winter will write a plan to maintain healthy local bear populations while reducing the chance that a habituated bear will maul or kill someone, said biologist Rick Sinnott. An education campaign will follow next spring.

Modeled partly on the committee that tackled the problem caused by booming numbers of Canada geese, the bear group will include representatives from the city parks and police departments, Chugach State Park, Alaska State Troopers and both military bases.

''The bears don't really understand jurisdictional boundaries,'' said Chugach superintendent Al Meiners. ''Right now each of us has our own policies and procedures for dealing with human-bear incidents, and I think we want to try to integrate those better.''

Bears this year have raided bird feeders, ripped into garbage, attacked chickens, chased sheep, killed goats, busted through cabin doors and chewed up upholstery of parked cars. An estimated 250 black bears and 30 to 40 brown bears live in or near the city.

Virtually all known bear encounters in the Anchorage Bowl ended when the bear bolted for the brush. One bear chased a runner up a tree and a few people were frightened by overly curious animals, but no one has been injured.

Biologists will consider urging residents to adopt habits appropriate for their location in bear habitat, creating an e-mail or phone notification system for bear sightings, shifting some garbage pickup times to later in the day and putting bear-proof containers in city parks.

Sinnott said he would like to call the campaign Bear With Us ''because it emphasizes the tolerance that most Anchorage residents share toward bears in the city.''

Bear populations have boomed near Anchorage, boosted by a succession of bumper berry crops and access to human food.

So far this season, state biologists received about 750 calls about bears in Anchorage, Sinnott said. Fourteen bears have died from human causes, according to the state: 11 shot in defense of life and property, two struck by cars and one struck by a train. Seven problem bears were captured and moved to more remote locations.

Last summer, biologists reported fewer calls but more deaths. A record 21 black or brown bears were shot and struck by vehicles through late fall 2000; 104 bears of both species have been reported shot in Anchorage since 1991, including 90 black bears.

Most complaints this summer came from people who discovered bears ripping into bird feeders or garbage cans, Sinnott said.

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