Freezer raiders are claws for alarm

These bears had the same idea.

 

Two different black bears got into the outdoor freezers of two separate Juneau homes on Thursday morning.

One bear escaped with a stash of “cheese, butter and Pop-Tarts,” according to the homeowner. The other was shot and killed by the homeowner, according to Alaska Wildlife Troopers who determined the shot was legal since it was in defense of life or property.

Earl Cook, a former logger who lives with his wife of 30 years in a doublewide trailer at the Switzer Village Mobile Home Park on Glacier Highway, called police at about 5:30 a.m. Thursday requesting permission to shoot a big, male black bear. The bear had swatted away a wooden lattice gate, walked onto Cook’s front porch, lifted the lid to an unlocked outdoor freezer box and helped itself to treats.

It walked back into the woods behind his home, then returned to the freezer about half a dozen times, Cook said in an interview. Cook watched, double-barrel shotgun in hand, from his wheelchair by the front door. The Juneau Police Department advised Cook to not shoot the bear, and he obliged, albeit begrudgingly. He said he’s had run-ins with the same bear before and perceives it as a threat.

“This is ridiculous,” he said. “Fish and Wildlife has got to do something.”

Around the same time, another homeowner on Back Loop Road near Goat Hill Road about 8 miles away was dealing with the same problem. The homeowner, whose name was not released, reported to police at 6:15 a.m. that he had just shot and killed a young bear that took items from a stand-up freezer inside the Arctic entry to his house. The homeowner reported he had placed the freezer in the entry because he was remodeling his home.

Alaska State Trooper Lt. Jon Streifel, who oversees the wildlife troopers’ Southeast detachment, said troopers cleared the homeowner of any wrongdoing.

“We look at a lot of things,” Streifel said by phone when asked how troopers assess a bear killed in defense of property. “One thing we look at is what kind of action was taken in lieu of having to destroy an animal.”

The Back Loop Road homeowner attempted to deter the bear — which had been observed in the area for several weeks — by putting up an electric fence around his chicken coop and by keeping his garbage secured, according to an online dispatch from troopers.

The homeowner who killed the bear is not allowed to keep its hide. He must skin it and surrender it to the state. The meat will be donated to a charity of the troopers’ choosing.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area biologist Stephanie Sell urged Juneau homeowners to be responsible by adequately securing bear attractants, such as food and garbage. Bears right now are getting ready to hibernate and are eating anything they can.

“Bears are creatures of habit and driven by their stomach, so they’re going to basically use their nose to try to find anything that’s available for them,” she said.

Putting up a little gate isn’t going to be sufficient to keep a bear from coming on your property if it smells food there, she said. Neither is hoping one won’t show up.

“It was a stand-up freezer that all you had to do was pull on the door and it opens right up,” she said of the Back Loop Road case where the bear was shot. “So in my mind, that’s just asking for something to happen. If you’re doing a remodel, OK, that’s great. Except for we still live in bear country and that’s still something that’s out and available for bears.”

Fish and Game has to euthanize bears that are destructive or have learned habits they can’t unlearn, such as entering homes or tents where there’s food. The agency killed three bears in the capital city last year and relocated three others out of town. They’ve killed four bears so far this summer and relocated four others.

“We need to do our best as a community to contain that stuff (bear attractants) because we do have bears in our community,” Sell said. “That’s just the world we live in. We have bears in urban environments and it’s going to be difficult for anybody in Alaska to go to an urban setting or a rural setting where they’re not going to run into wildlife. We can coexist. We just need the public’s help with that.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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