Grizzlies leave nerves frayed on Peninsula

COOPER LANDING: Some say a hunt may be the only solution.

July 15, 2008 

Anchorage's big wild life has got nothing on Cooper Landing, the small Kenai Peninsula town where the latest bear tale has a bit of a Wild West spin to it.

Two juvenile brown bears were relocated over the weekend after they made themselves at home in a horse trailer at a guest ranch where they had been unwanted guests for much of the summer.

Alex Kime, the cowboy who runs 30-horse Alaska Horsemen Trail Adventures, didn't lasso the bears. He simply closed the trailer door and locked it.

Then he and a bunch of campers at a nearby RV park spent Friday night listening to the bears bang and growl for five hours until they wore themselves out and went to sleep.

The impromptu roundup concluded Saturday when state Fish and Game biologists tranquilized and relocated the bears.

That leaves Cooper Landing with two fewer bears -- not a bad start, according to Kime and other residents.

"The damn bears. I had a big sow and two cubs back at the ranch again last night," Kime said Monday.

"They've got their circuit. They go from the dumpsters a quarter-mile away, come to the Sunrise Inn RV park and the restaurant area, then they wander through my ranch, then they go through the Quartz Creek campground.

"They go through a lot of neighborhood yards, no doubt about that. They're terrorizing the whole neighborhood."

INTREPID VISITORS

Mary Louise Molenda, who runs the Sunrise Inn at Mile 45 of the Sterling Highway, won't allow tent campers in her RV park, as she has in previous summers.

"I tell them if you can't be wrapped in metal, you can't be here. I don't want anyone to be on the ground," she said. "Every year they seem to become more and more prevalent and more and more intrepid. In the last two or three weeks, I would say there's been at least 10 or 12 bear visits on my property."

The same night Kime was wrangling bears, a third grizzly peered into the Sunrise Inn cocktail lounge through a window. "I know it was a different bear, because the two Alex had were locked up," Molenda said.

A couple weeks ago, she and the bartender were closing up for the night and a bear was sitting near the back door, between the motel and Molenda's home.

"We had to call and have someone drive us away," she said. "It was like being in prison. There was no way we were exiting this building. The fellow who came for us had a shotgun."

Fish and Game this summer has relocated four brown bears from around Cooper Landing -- the two corraled in Kime's horse trailer and two that were chasing anglers on the popular Russian River salmon stream.

State biologist Sean Farley is studying the bear population on the Peninsula, but it's too soon for him to say whether numbers have increased around Cooper Landing.

"We cannot say there are more bears," he said, "but there are more sightings."

There are also more people living in places people never lived.

"There are houses and subdivisions in places where there used to not be anybody, so naturally we are going to have more conflicts and more sightings," said Will Troyer, a bear expert who moved to Cooper Landing in 1982 after retiring as a wildlife biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Park Service.

"But I'd have to agree we have more bears here."

TIME FOR A HUNT?

Kime wonders if it's time for a brown bear hunt in the area. Farley says there already is a hunting season for brown bear on the Peninsula, but it doesn't always open. Fish & Game regulations say only a certain number of bears can be killed by humans each year, and in recent years that limit has been met by those who kill in defense of life and property, so there's been little hunting.

"If we had a bear hunt right there at Cooper Landing, would that solve our problems? I don't know," Farley said. "I've had bears tracked from the Russian River to Kenai proper, 35 to 45 miles in a straight line, in the course of a week. The bears there tomorrow could have come up from Hope or from Seward."

The best solution, he said, is to not leave food sources around for the bears. This is Alaska, not Kansas, he said, and people with food or garbage left unsecured are apt to wind up with bears. "It's not rocket science, people," he said.

Around the Sunrise Inn and Kime's ranch, that's a bit of a problem because the community dump is just a couple hundred yards away.

In recent years, a fence and bear-proofing devices have been added at the dump site. But Troyer said when he takes his garbage there, he often discovers that previous visitors fail to shut the dumpster lids properly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Kime is frustrated. His ranch is for tourists, and a week or so ago he had horses saddled and tourists eager for a trail ride when two cubs wandered onto his deck.

"We had to cancel my rides that day because everyone was too nervous," he said. "We're having to change our lifestyles so we can live with bears, because there's no hunting season on bears. So they continue to grow and grow, and instead of being plagued with five in my yard, I'm gonna have 25. Something's gotta stop."


Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4309.

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