Polar bear killed after wandering into village of Noorvik

Officials say animal was unusually far inland from habitat

Posted: Sunday, January 06, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A polar bear that wandered into the Western Alaska village of Noorvik and went through some trash was killed this week because of safety concerns, officials said.

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The bear was unusually far inland from its normal habitat on coastal ice packs and villagers said such visits by the omnivorous marine mammals are rare.

"It's very unusual for us," said Hendy Ballot, tribal administrator for the Noorvik Native Community. "There have been some sightings earlier, but not in the village."

The bear was first noticed on Wednesday night near a trash drop-off by the airport, Ballot said.

A local man who was half-Alaska Native killed the bear a few miles from town after his father, who is white, helped track it down, said Jim Dau, the Department of Fish and Game's area wildlife biologist. Federal subsistence laws allow only hunters with Native blood to kill the animals.

Dau said the bear was about 75 miles outside its normal range. Being surprisingly skinny for this time of year, the animal was likely hunting for food, he said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing polar bears as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act because their habitat on the Arctic sea ice is disappearing as the earth warms.

At least two other bears have been spotted near the village, 45 miles east of Kotzebue.

"It's been really an odd year for marine mammals around Noorvik," Dau said. "It's more than just the past few occasions."

There are about 3,500 bears spread between two U.S. polar bear populations. The south Beaufort Sea population ranges into Canada. The Chukchi Sea population includes polar bears in Alaska and Russia, U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said.

Polar bears do enter other villages closer to the sea in search of food. They can legally be killed by anyone defending their life or property, Woods said.

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