The Alaska Department of Fish and Game euthanized an adult male black bear that was captured while searching for food in downtown Juneau Wednesday afternoon.
Ryan Scott, the area management biologist for Fish and Game, said in a phone interview that the bear was put down shortly after it was tranquilized when they realized it was the same bear that was captured and relocated a little more than two months ago.
The bear, estimated to be about 6 to 8 years old, was originally captured on Behrends Avenue, a residential neighborhood about a mile and a half away from the downtown area, on July 7 after Fish and Game had receiving multiple complaints that it was getting into garbage, a bird feeder and someone’s dog food.
“It was one of those cases where the bear had become very habituated to that Behrends Avenue neighborhood,” Scott said.
Fish and Game had tried to capture the bear twice at that time, and caught it on the third attempt. It was tranquilized, tagged and relocated to an undisclosed place.
“We were able to dart it, and we ear-tagged it so we’d be able to identify it, we moved it, and lo and behold, it showed back up,” Scott said.
Scott said it was relocated somewhere in the wild, north of Juneau. He would not give an exact location since he doesn’t want people to search for the relocated bears.
Scott said he was surprised the bear, which weighed an estimated 250 pounds, came back to Juneau as quickly as it did, especially since the intent of relocation is to put a bear in a place where it’s difficult to return home, and to give it time to alter its conditioned behaviors.
“Over the years we’ve seen bears come back, (but) it often takes a long time,” Scott said. “It’s not overly surprising to have them come back, but I thought he was good candidate — put him out, put him in a place where there’s plenty of natural food, and things like that. But apparently that bear was focused was trying to get back to where it was from and where it knew the area, and its home range and, essentially, where it was comfortable.”
Fish and Game once again began fielding near daily complaints about the bear beginning two weeks ago, Scott said.
Last Friday, they received reports it was near the State Office Building parking lot, and then that same night, in the Foodland IGA parking lot. Police ended up chasing it off by firing off bean bag rounds, upon Fish and Game’s request not to shoot it. It was night time and officials were unprepared for a capture, so they asked police to push the bear near the Juneau Federal Building toward Cope Park, Scott said.
The bear was also seen last week on the rooftop of the Senate Mall building on Franklin Street, which was evidenced by Facebook photographs that began appearing online. It was last reported seen by police on Front Street on Monday in a garbage can, Scott said.
On Wednesday, the bear re-appeared downtown, attracting a crowd as it climbed up stairs and onto a rooftop landing between Franklin Street and Shattuck Way behind City Hall.
Police officers, both on-duty and off-duty, and Animal Control responded to the scene to help, and they shut down vehicular traffic during the lunch hour. Police tape was placed on scene to set up a perimeter to keep both tourists and locals at bay, as they snapped pictures and crowded around to watch authorities dart the bear, carry it down the stairs on a blue litter and into a truck that drove away.
An unknown person on the landing was seen videographing the entire incident. Kathy Dye, the director of media and publications for the Sealaska Heritage Institute, which has offices nearby, also videotaped the bear in action as it gracefully balanced walking on a thin wood railing and sniffed around the concrete rooftop “backyards.”
Scott, who was on scene alongside Doug Larsen, the Fish and Game Regional Supervisor for the Southeast, believes the bear got to the landing by walking up some stairs and using a chain-link fence for leverage.
“There was a landing there, so it was able to walk up the steps to a certain point,” Scott said. “Bears are amazing climbers, and my understanding is it used a small section of a chain-link fence to climb up onto the next roof portion.”
Once there, responding police officers tried to keep it in one spot until Scott and Larsen arrived on scene. By the time Scott got there, the bear was docile and laying down atop the landing, he said. He said he did not receive any reports of the bear acting aggressive towards people.
Scott said the ear tag identified the bear as being the same one seen at the State Office Building and Foodland IGA parking lots. He added it also exhibited similar behavior that was seen on Behrends Avenue.
“It’s unfortunate really ‘cause the bear was able to get into garbage,” he said. “... The bear has become habituated to people — obviously, it’s very comfortable around people, and it’s also food conditioned.”
The bear was euthanized by gun shot, and its body is being stored in a Fish and Game freezer. It was not immediately known what will happen to its remains.
Several factors are weighed when deciding to euthanize a bear, Scott says. A bear will be euthanized immediately, he said, if it acts aggressively towards people or if it makes contact with a person.
“There are no second chances with that really,” Scott said.
But in this case, the bear’s history is what influenced the decision, Scott said.
“It’s not just one thing,” he said. “... This isn’t a case where it’s one single event that I determined how to proceed with a particular animal. First, it was into all kinds of stuff in July, we provided the opportunity for it to live out in the wild and go that route, and it made its way back, and it’s been generating calls for about two weeks now.”
Scott added the decision to euthanize a bear is not one that he takes lightly.
“I guess I’m hoping people won’t get upset if they understand that we had handled this bear once before, we had provided the opportunity for it do go on and do natural things,” Scott said. “Nobody likes killing bears, including Fish and Game staff. So while we don’t like it, it is at times a necessary thing in our opinion, and this particular bear based on the history was one that I determined we should do that with.”
Two to three bears are euthanized in Juneau every year, he said. The last one that was euthanized was just 30 days ago. In that case, it was again a large adult male bear that frequented roughly the same area downtown and exhibited similar behaviors.
Juneau sees a lot of bear activity this time of year as bears prepare for hibernation. Scott says this bear was not a so-called “problem bear,” rather he was just doing what bears do.
“These bears are doing exactly what they’re programed for, and they will exploit a food source if they find it,” he said. “Lots of people use the term ‘problem bear,’ but so much, so often it’s really not necessarily a bear problem — it’s an attracting problem that we need to work on.”
He added, “We don’t want to lose sight of like it or not we live in a place where there’s lots of black bears, and bears and people I think can coexist pretty well. But we got to keep those (food) attractants out of there that way we don’t create bear problems.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at email@example.com.