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KODIAK - In what authorities are calling an unprecedented number of illegal shootings, two Kodiak brown bear sows with cubs were killed this month and Alaska State Troopers are investigating a possible third.
"In five years I haven't worked a bear-hunting season in which three sows with cubs have been shot," said state Wildlife Protection Officer Joanna Roop.
On May 2, troopers cited James E. Jairell, 43, of Kodiak, for taking a brown bear sow accompanied by two cubs on the Aliulik Peninsula. Four days later, troopers cited Emmet F. Heidemann Jr., 44, of Wasilla, for killing a brown bear sow, also with two cubs, in the Red Lake area.
The bears were killed during the Kodiak spring bear hunt, which opened April 1 and lasts through May 15. Normally, authorities said, no sows with cubs are taken during the season.
Troopers said they were investigating a third possible shooting, but wouldn't discuss details.
Shooting a brown bear sow with cubs could bring a fine of up to $1,300.
Fish and Game biologist Larry VanDaele said both killings appear to be cases of mistaken identity. It is difficult to distinguish between brown bear sows and boars. Cubs are not always visible, VanDaele said.
VanDaele said orphaned cubs often die in the wilderness but it is the death of the sows that represents the greatest loss.
"One of the sows was a young bear who could have continued to have cubs for 20 years. She might have had 10 cubs in her lifetime. So instead of shooting one bear, you've actually killed 10," Vandaele said.
While two of the orphaned cubs are yearlings and have a slim chance at survival, officials were unable to find homes in zoos for the newborn cubs. VanDaele said they likely would die in the wilderness.
"They're always so cute at that age. But they grow up. Zoos won't even take year-old bears. They're too ornery," said VanDaele.