Law enforcement officers killed a young brown bear in a Sitka campground over the weekend (5-17-15), after the animal had become aggressive.
Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Phil Mooney says he and a state trooper and a Forest Service law enforcement officer had been combing the Starrigavan Campground for three days, but were unable to locate the juvenile bear.
Mooney says he and the two officers had just returned to town Sunday afternoon when they received another report of the bear around 1 PM. But when he got back out to the valley, the incident had already turned deadly.
“The Forest Service law enforcement officer is coming from one side, and the trooper was already out on the boardwalk. I was about two minutes behind him. The bear charged the trooper. He shot it at less than 10 feet. It would have made contact with him, I’m pretty sure.”
The animal was first seen at Starrigavan on May 4. It often appeared in the estuary in broad daylight, and appeared to be growing impatient with the people and dogs who approached it on the boardwalk.
“I’m sure a couple of hundred people went out there. Lots of days, 40-50 people would show up there. A lot of people would stay back, but a lot of people pushed up close to it on the boardwalk to try and get pictures. And it was obvious from its behavior that it was getting more and more irritated with people.”
The bear was a female, less than two years old. It weighed 150 pounds. Officers were able to load the animal into a wheelbarrow to remove it from the trail.
Mooney believes he had encountered this cub and her sow several times last year when he was tagging deer in valley, and neither displayed any aggressive behavior.
Sometime over the winter, however, the sow likely died, leaving the cub to fend for itself. Mooney says the odds were stacked against this cub, and little that the state could do to protect it — especially in a heavily-used recreation area.
“There’s no place to move it to. It doesn’t have a home range that it owns, and it’s out in the middle of the day because other big bears aren’t. For bears, it’s not Starrigavan, it’s ‘Deathgavan’ and there’s just no place to go.”
Mooney says the animal was in good condition. “There was nothing wrong with it,” he says. “It just didn’t have the working knowledge to stay away from people.”
The bear’s meat was salvaged and donated to the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center.