Collisions kill 6 bears in Anchorage, pushing up brown bear mortality

Posted: Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Anchorage - Four brown bears and two black bears have died in traffic collisions in Anchorage this season, resulting in a record brown bear mortality since hunting was banned from most of the city three decades ago.

Collisions also killed and maimed black bears in Juneau over the weekend. A black bear died Saturday night after it was struck by a car as it crossed a road. Two hours later a black bear was hit by a car on another road. Juneau police say the animal limped into the woods.

News of the Anchorage casualties arrives as government managers and biologists begin drawing up maps of bear habitat, along with recommendations on how the city's land use laws might be changed to conserve local bears.

A report from the Anchorage Bear Committee will probably be presented to city officials within the next few months, said state biologist Rick Sinnott.

Anchorage is one of the largest urban areas in the United States where housing overlaps bear habitat. The area is home to an estimated 250 black bears and about 60 grizzlies.

Over the past decade, many bears have learned to forage for food in neighborhoods. As a result, more than 100 bears have been shot as problem bears since 1991, including 90 black bears.

But only four black bears have been shot seeking food or bothering pets this year. Another black bear was captured at Elmendorf Air Force Base and sent to Fairbanks for research.

The loss of five black bears ties with 2002 as the lowest number since 1994.

Besides the four brown bear collisions, one brown bear sow was killed after charging a hiker on private land in Potter Valley. The bear had at least one cub, which would have died later without its mother, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Sinnott and other wildlife advocates say that, in response to two years of educational campaigns, more people have been properly stowing garbage and other potential bear food.

But the number of bears killed by collision has jumped.

Only one brown bear had been killed in a vehicle accident in the city since 1991. This year, the four deaths ranged from the Glenn Highway to Eagle River to Girdwood and included both male and female bears.

Sinnott isn't sure how to explain the sudden increase in bear-vehicle accidents.

"Who knows?" he said. "There could be an increase in bears, or it could be that there's an increase in traffic, or it could be that there's more habituated bears that would be more likely to be running back and forth across the road. It may be a combination of all of those."

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