GPS collar lays bare the life of a relocated garbage bear

Transmitter indicates bear returned to original stomping grounds within seven or eight days

Posted: Thursday, August 14, 2003

A bear lurking in the Mendenhall Valley woods holds secrets that Neil Barten is anxious to unlock.

The area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Fish and Game Department moved the female black bear at the end of July to the "end of the road" near Echo Cove, after it was captured during one of its Glacier View Trailer Park trash raids.

When the sedated bear woke up, it was wearing a radio transmitter and a GPS collar to record its movements.

Barten said the radio transmitter told him it took seven or eight days for the bear to return to the Mendenhall Valley, proving "the futility of relocating bears."

Twice, this bear has been trapped, sedated and set free about 30 road miles from where it was scrounging in garbage, Barten said. Now human refuse is back in its diet.

Barten said this bear isn't unique. In northwest Alaska, bears relocated 200 miles have returned to where they started in two to three weeks.

The GPS collar on this Juneau bear will track its odyssey, from the wild to the smorgasbord of a trailer park.

GPS - the Global Positioning System navigation tool - uses satellites to pinpoint a receiver's location anywhere on the planet. It keeps a record of the bear's position at 15-minute intervals.

"If we pull up Aug. 10, it will show us where the bear was at midnight, and at 12:15 and at 12:30 ... We'll see where it's been."

He said the cumbersome collar is the first put on a black bear in Southeast Alaska.

Does the bear subsist exclusively on garbage, or does it forage for berries and visit salmon streams? Monday, it was getting into garbage in the Kodzoff Acres Mobile Home Park, but Tuesday it wasn't, Barten said.

"Maybe it's at Jordan Creek catching salmon," he said.

The information will be shared with students at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School for a class project.

Understanding what bears do is important in learning how to live with them. Barten said the route the bear took was important. He may conclude that a relocated bear may not be able to stake out a salmon stream, because the territory has been claimed by others.

Trailer parks often attract bears because the people who live in them may not have storage areas to secure their garbage, he said. Bear incidents in downtown Juneau have decreased since people were required to keep their garbage more secure, he said.

Typically, a nuisance bear with a yellow ear tag showing that it has been captured and relocated will have to be killed. This one has two.

"I'd like to give (this bear) one more chance," Barten said. "I'd like to take it across the Taku River" to see if it manages in a new wilderness home or heads for the human leftovers at Taku Glacier Lodge.

Tony Carroll can be reached at

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