A frequently sighted black bear sow and her three cubs out near Auke Recreation Area may be popular, but that fame is leading nowhere good for the bears. The number of people pulling over, in close proximity, when they emerge — some even getting out of their cars and standing less than five yards from all four — is habituating the bears to the extent that the cubs, once grown, will likely become a problem and have to be moved or killed.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation Wildlife Biologist Ryan Scott said the bears have gotten “way too comfortable.”
“I think the reason is all the people stopping and getting out,” he said. ”The human behavior out there is largely responsible for that, inadvertently. I don’t think anyone has malicious intentions … but stopping and getting out of the vehicle is not helping this bear family … it’s always the bears that lose. We need the public’s help.”
On its Facebook page, ADF&G posted the two photos — one of a man taking photos less than five yards from the bears, next to a line of cars. Another was of the cubs climbing on a car parked at Auke Rec. Many commenters were angry and concerned.
“You will love those bears to death if you keep doing what you are doing,” one commenter wrote. “They are in danger. Someone’s child, relative, loved one, friend could be unaware of the bears, and unknowingly make momma bear angry because they’ve become desensitized to humans and did not avoid them as they normally would have ... Please respect Mother Nature, and the resources that belong to all Alaskans. Treat the bears with the ultimate respect and allow them to remain truly wild so they may live and your fellow residents may also be safe.”
Last year, when the cubs were smaller, Scott said he and others spent a lot of time responding to complaints about them and using hazing techniques to try and teach them to stay away from humans.
“At this point, it’s apparent it didn’t work,” he said. “And now, it’s not a female with three tiny cubs. It’s an adult female with much larger bears.”
Scott expects the sow will soon turn the yearlings out to fend for themselves.
“They have learned all the wrong lessons, and that’s something I anticipate we’ll hear about,” he said. “This is very serious at this point … we’re hoping that the behavior will change on both sides of the equation.”
• Contact Outdoors reporter Mary Catharine Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.