Though unnerving at times, most bear activity around Sitka is benign, according to ADF&G biologist Stephen Bethune. He believes this latest attack on a dog in the Indian River neighborhood was predatory, however, and a search is now underway to find and kill the bear. (KCAW file photo)

Wildlife authorities in Sitka are searching for a brown bear that broke through a fence and killed a large dog Wednesday night (11-4-20). Although the dog’s body was recovered, officials believe the attack was predatory, and they intend to destroy the bear when it’s found.

By this time of year, brown bears working trash cans on the fringes of town is getting to be almost routine. Even though they’re worrisome to residents, the bears are also familiar, and sometimes even get nicknames.

This latest bear, says Alaska Department of Fish & Game biologist Stephen Bethune, was not one of those familiar bears.

The Sitka Bear Report has become the go-to site for bear information. Georgianna Smith posted just minutes after she discovered her dog had been attacked.

“This is actually a fairly new bear that we haven’t had contact with until just the last few days, and he was not acting aggressively,” said Bethune. “He was in trash cans and doing the normal things. But he quickly went from being a benign bear to obviously a bear that we’re going to attempt to kill.”

The bear tore through a chain link enclosure around midnight on November 4, and killed a 125-pound mixed-breed dog belonging to Georgiana Smith — who immediately informed her Indian River-area neighbors of the incident on the Sitka Bear Report Facebook page.

Sitka police responded and located the bear that night, and fired shots. Following a search the next morning, biologist Bethune doesn’t think the bear was hit. He says shooting a bear at night in a residential area is problematic.

“Finding the bear is one thing,” said Bethune. “Finding it in a place where we can safely dispatch it without putting homes or people in harm’s way is another. It’s a difficult situation.”

Sitka police on October 19 used a shotgun to kill a 550-pound boar on the upper part of Edgecumbe Drive, after the animal, nicknamed “The Terrorist,” went on a week-long spree breaking fences and chicken coops, and rifling trash cans, from downtown Sitka all the way out to Cascade Creek Road. Although at least one resident had fired a shot at him, “The Terrorist” had never acted aggressively toward humans. Bethune says he decided to take the animal to “ease pressure” on Sitka’s neighborhoods, which were regularly being visited by a sow with one cub, another sow with two cubs, and a medium-sized boar.

“The Terrorist” was also a suspect in the killing of some Sitka dogs last year. Bethune says that there’s no departmental policy toward the killing of dogs, but he considers it a tipping point.

“I don’t know if we have any official line on that,” Bethune said, “but that’s definitely — for myself and for local authorities — a line that bears are not allowed to cross.”

Even if Bethune, troopers, and police find this latest animal and destroy it, Sitka’s total for the year is relatively low. The Department of Fish & Game reports that 24 brown bears have been killed by non-hunters this year in Haines and Skagway (one was hit by a car). Another dozen bears have been killed in the Juneau area. 

Just outside of Sitka in early October, a worker at the Medvejie hatchery shot and killed a problem sow attempting to break into the warehouse where fish food was stored. Bethune later had to go out and destroy her young cubs as well — an event he describes “my least favorite part of this job.”