SITKA - Sitka police and wildlife officials say the recent death of a cub shows why residents must do a better job of dealing with trash.
The number of calls to police about bears has risen sharply in August, numbering between 70 and 80 in the first half of the month. Police Lt. Barry Allen said bears arrive in town to eat berries, but garbage, particularly fish waste, is a bigger problem.
The cub's death occurred Sunday, when it and three others were shot with tranquilizer darts by state wildlife officials. The dead cub had been accidentally struck in the neck. The three surviving cubs were taken to Fortress of the Bear, a nonprofit rescue center.
Rod Flynn, who oversees the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's wildlife division in Southeast, said state officials were attempting to find a long-term home for the bears. Fortress of the Bear is "plausible option" for the short-term, he said, and officials are in contact with zoos in other states.
If an acceptable home can't be found, the cubs could be euthanized.
The cubs and their mother had been seen all over Sitka in recent weeks. The first known sighting was at Bear Lake on July 4. After that, the five made appearances in the neighborhood around Shotgun Alley, before crossing town and turning up Aug. 11 at Shaffer's Trailer Court, on Halibut Point Road.
Allen said officers attempted to drive the mother back into the woods by shooting her with rubber bullets. She had also been hit with the "less-lethal rounds" a few days prior, after grabbing a dog on Edgecumbe Drive.
The dog was released by the bear and survived, Allen said.
The cubs were then spotted many times without their mother. Because mother bears are notoriously protective, her disappearance indicates she is likely dead.
The cubs spent last Saturday in a picnic area at Pioneer Park. The cubs, all less than a year old, had been getting into trash, and would not have survived without their mother, said Holly Denninson, a program technician at the Sitka Fish and Game wildlife office.
Fish and Game officials tried to trap the cubs Sunday, but eventually opted for the tranquilizer darts.
Phil Mooney, Fish and Game Sitka area wildlife biologist, could not be reached for comment, but left the following statement at the office: "All the residents who have allowed bears access to trash should be cited."
Sitka's monthlong dry spell broke last weekend. With the streams starting to fill for the salmon runs, it's hoped the bears will leave town and head for the streams.
Allen said fish in the creek will help, but bears often find it hard to break the garbage-eating habit.