Crupi electrifiesTKE crowd 050815-02pm (1)

This spring in Tenakee, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game showed locals how to set up a portable electric fence around the school’s community garden. (Photo courtesy of Phil Mooney)

A killer is on the loose in Sitka and he’s hairy, stinky, and walks on all fours. For the past two and a half weeks, a juvenile brown bear has been breaking into Sitka backyards. The behavior is not unusual, but so far state troopers, law enforcement, and officials with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game have been unable to locate him.

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Updated 11 a.m., 09-15-15: The Alaska Department of Fish & Game set up a culvert in the Gavan subdivision on Friday, September 11th and baited it with chicken meat and bacon in an effort to capture the bear.

Since August 28th,the Sitka Police Department has responded to twenty five bear calls. And most have to do with this one bear, causing extra trouble in neighborhoods off the Cross Trail – some as far north as Granite Creek Road, others as far south as Lake Street.

“Usually by the time we get there, he’s gone. He’s getting in and he’s getting out real quick,” said Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt.

The bear is most likely male. So far, he’s strewn garbage, murdered chickens, and made an unwelcome appearance at a BBQ. And every time officers have responded to a call, they have been unable to locate the bear.

Phil Mooney is an area biologist with Alaska Department of Fish & Game and has also been responding to citizen reports about the bear. Mooney said, “In some cases, it doesn’t matter if sometimes it’s been ten minutes too late, the bear is gone.”

The bear uses the Cross Trail in the nighttime hours to get around town and is developing an appetite for chickens. “A couple of the places he’s gotten into chicken coops he’s worked a little bit at it to tear the locks off and go in and get the chickens. And that makes it more difficult to catch up with him too,” said Mooney.

Mooney thinks this bear’s lock picking is a learned behavior that increases his visitation to town.

“Unfortunately Sitka doesn’t have much in the way of any ordinances on types of structures that you should keep [chickens] in,” Mooney said. “It ranges from being on the back of somebody’s porch and hen houses. Chicken coop wire.”

And chicken coop wire, as Mooney says, is no match against a bear.

“[Chicken coop wire] is no different than our old trash cans will keep a bear out of the trash either.”

If chicken coops are the new trash can, this begs a natural question. Is raising backyard poultry a problem? What came first – the chicken or the bear?

I posed the question to Mooney. And he said, it’s both. The bear is 3-4 years old, kicked out it’s mother’s home range and likely pushed out of Indian River by older males. It’s at risk and needs to eat. But Mooney says Sitkans can still do their part to keep their chickens out of paw’s reach.

“When you say, ‘Chicken or the bears?’, well, there’s this attitude [in Sitka] that says, ‘We haven’t had a bear for four years so it’s not an issue.'” Mooney says that attitude needs to change. “It’s always going to be an issue sooner or later if you’ve got bears and you’ve got an attraction.”

Mooney advises running a hotwire or electric fence around the chicken coop, or outfitting it with motion detectors. He reminds Sitkans to report bear sightings sooner rather than later. Once the bear’s movements are better known, Mooney wants to potentially set up a large trap to capture, collar, and move the bear away from the residential area.

“You just have to outsmart the bear and be vigilant and not let your guard down,” said Mooney. “Eventually we’ll catch up with him.”

And that might mean rounding up your chickens.