A Sitka Police officer shot and killed an injured bear Monday (10/11/12)  as it attempted to flee a residential area near Blatchley Middle School.

The Sitka Police Department received a call at around 10 a.m. that a bear was sitting in a vacant, fenced-in lot on New Archangel Street, and would not move. According to Lieutenant Jean Achee, the bear became agitated after being unable to free itself from the enclosed area.

 “It charged toward one of the officers broke through a fence and, unfortunately because of the nearby school the the safety of the neighborhood was was paramount and the officers took action which resulted in the euthanization of the bear,” said Jean Achee

Achee says the school had already been notified of the bear, and was essentially in lockdown at the time. The officers hoped to wait for Fish and Game to arrive on the scene, but had to make a quick decision once the bear started moving. Achee says officers got the call at around 10 a.m., and were at the scene for nearly three hours before taking action.

Wildlife management biologist Steve Bethune says the bear, which was suffering from a severe neck wound, had been frequenting the area near the middle school for around six weeks. Bethune assumes the bear obtained the injury, a piece of 550 chord embedded around its neck, while going through someone’s trash.

“I can only speculate that it had a loop tied in the cord and it was likely in in somebody’s garbage and the bear at some point, unfortunately got its head through that loop probably when he was a smaller bear and has grown into it, and it was a pretty good infection going on around his neck,” Bethune said.

The death of the bear has renewed debate over how to deal with bears who come into town looking for food and become quote “problem bears.” While some condemn the euthanasia of bears, and call for their relocation, Bethune says it’s not that simple.  

“I work largely by myself, when it comes to those kind of things. And like I said before, it’s it would be very difficult to track that you to get within range and successfully tranquilize one specific bear,” Bethune said. “It takes several minutes for the drugs to take effect so it who knows where that bear could end up in the three to five minutes before the drugs. finally put it down. And then potentially you’ve got a situation where you’ve got a six to 800 pound animal that’s not near a road. So getting it into a vehicle and transported someplace is very difficult.”

Bethune says ADF&G has found that over the years, bears that have been relocated generally return, or die soon after release.  He says even if he had been able to track down the bear and safely tranquilize it, in this bear’s case, the next step may not have been relocation.

“It was already a known, habituated bear in town. So  there would have been some real serious discussion on whether to actually treat the bear or just euthanize it and they likely would have just euthanized it,” said Bethune.

Bethune says the bear was not considered a public safety concern until Monday, and reiterated the importance of proper trash disposal in order to better protect Sitka’s bear population and humans alike. 

That’s the thing I’m going to keep hammering away at is that improper trash handling is bringing bears in the town and unfortunately this ,this bear is kind of high profile because of that injury which was a result of of getting into people’s trash likely,” said Bethune

Bethune says even those who don’t have a shed or bear proof garbage can, can get creative by using electric fencing, taking their waste to the local transfer station or calling fish and game for specific suggestions on how to handle their trash.