Concern grows about official bear shootings

Posted: Friday, August 23, 2002

Some locals are wondering whether garbage-eating should be a crime punishable by death.

Two garbage bears, one in Douglas and one in Switzer Village near Lemon Creek, were shot recently after the state Department of Fish and Game trapped them. Neil Barten, a wildlife biologist for Fish and Game, said those were the only two bears shot this summer. Four others were relocated.

Last summer, he said, three bears were killed and six were moved.

The most recent shooting was Tuesday morning in Douglas, when a 400-pound, 2-year-old male bear was trapped on Second Street, Barten said. He said the department had received several calls a day for the past month from residents reporting the bear's Dumpster-raiding ways near an apartment complex.

The bear was trapped Monday night, Barten said. It was drugged and shot early Tuesday morning.

Dan Anderson, who lives on Second Street in Douglas, said the bear's only crime was spreading some trash around on occasion and rooting around for a meal.

"It only raided a Dumpster," said Anderson. "Just on a philosophical level it doesn't seem right to kill a living thing for no reason or because it's more cost-effective to kill it than to move it.

"I'm not an animal activist or anything. I mean I hunt and I fish, but this just seems unnecessary since the bear really wasn't causing a problem."

But Barten said though a bear in a Dumpster seems harmless, it's still a wild animal living close to people and is a public-safety hazard.

Barten said the agency's decision whether to move or kill a bear is not based on money, though it costs several hundred dollars to relocate a bear. He said much of the decision is based on Fish and Game's staffing level and whether it is practical to move the bear.

"We are not in the bear-moving business," said Barten. "It would be a warm, fuzzy world if we could move every bear that was causing a problem. ... We just don't have the staff or the time. Plus we are not going to get in the business of moving bears so that people can be messy with their garbage."

Barten said biologists consider many factors when deciding whether to move a bear or kill it.

"We look at weather, if we can even get the bear to the location; whether it's likely the bear will return once it's been moved," he said. "We don't like killing sows and cubs. One, because it's just not pretty, and two, because the female bears seem to do better with staying where we put them, whereas the males are more likely to come back."

Barten said the bear killed this week most likely was around last summer and would have returned if relocated. Also, he said, it would have been difficult to move a large bear.

"Really the only solution is for people to take care of their garbage," Barten said. "We're doing much better than we were in past years thanks to people getting the metal Dumpster lids and the (city's) new trash ordinance. ... We need to encourage the city (assembly) and city manager to continue supporting stiffer penalties for litter violations."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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