The Alaska Department of Fish and Game killed two bears in Sitka Monday night (07-31-18). Local biologists say a sow brown bear and her yearling were behaving “boldly” and posed a public safety risk.
The brown bear pair had been spotted by multiple residents this past week, digging through trash and pawing windows near Cedar Beach Road and Shotgun Alley. Attempts by Sitka Police to haze the bears with rubber bullets were not successful.
In consultation with the Sitka Police Department, the two nuisance bears were killed with high powered rifles by ADF&G during an evening patrol on Monday.
There are conflicting reports on whether the bears charged anyone, but the bears did become more active in daylight hours – treating garbage as a food source. Wildlife biologist Stephen Bethune said that’s the kind of behavior that poses a risk to humans.
“People were putting their trash out correctly on the morning of trash pick-up and the bears were coming out in the daytime, and hitting those trash cans before the garbage trucks got to them. Things just escalated really quickly,” he said. Sitka General Code states that all trash that’s a known bear attractant, like meat scraps and dirty diapers, must be put out after 4 a.m. on pick-up day.
Bethune says it was a tough decision to put down the two bears, but he determined that euthanization was a safer option than tranquilization and relocating the bears to another place.
“The drugs take several minutes to take effect. You have a situation, potentially at night with a sow and a cub, and you dart one of them. Are you able to find them? It may take several days to be successful at that. In this situation, we just felt like there was too much of a public safety risk to take that step,” Bethune said.
In addition to upholding the bear ordinance, Bethune sees the potential for creative solutions, like electric fences and storage sheds to surround garbage cans. But adopting a city-wide solution would take money.
“There are other types of aftermarket garbage cans that are much more bear resistant than what the city is currently using right now. It comes down to people’s priorities,” Bethune said. “Somebody has to pay for these upgrades. At this point, the bears are paying for it.”
These are the only bears killed by authorities in Sitka this summer. Nearly twenty calls have been made to the police department reporting bear activity since Friday.