Juneau man's bear feeding frightens neighbors

Troopers say 10 to 15 bears regularly dined at buffet.

June 30, 2011 

A black bear wanders through Arnold Hanger's back yard in this screengrab from a video shot by Alaska State Troopers. Watch the video at the bottom of the story.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers recently cited a Juneau man they say has been illegally feeding dog food to as many as 15 black bears at his home.

Arnold W. Hanger, 66, is accused of spreading AttaBoy! dog food on rocks and logs around his property near Tee Harbor, north of Juneau, for years, troopers said. As a result, 10 to 15 bears had been hanging around the area and scaring neighbors, some of whom have small children, trooper Sgt. Matthew Dobson said.

When Dobson drove to Hanger's house earlier this month to investigate an anonymous tip, he found two of the bears strolling up the longtime Juneau resident's driveway, the trooper said. Dobson said the bears paid him no mind.

"I followed them right to the house," he said.

Troopers cited Hanger on June 20. He faces three misdemeanor counts of intentionally feeding game and one count of reckless endangerment, according to state court records. The bears now lack a normal and healthy fear of humans and may have to be killed if they return to the area looking for food, troopers said. State biologists are trying to avoid that outcome, Dobson said.

Hanger could not immediately be reached for comment.

Dobson and another trooper saw six bears as they walked the perimeter of Hanger's property, which sits next to Tongass National Forest, the trooper said. More bears were milling around near the house, Dobson said.

The trooper said the bears seemed right at home, doing what bears do: chewing things. They'd torn siding off Hanger's house and munched on his deck, Dobson said. There was bear scat all over the wooded area, the trooper said.

Hanger initially denied feeding the bears, Dobson said. The troopers left, then returned with a search warrant and found dozens of empty dog food bags, he said.

Hanger eventually admitted to feeding the bears for a number of years, troopers said. He'd been giving them a 50-pound bag of dog food per day, Dobson said.

Hanger told the trooper he lives by himself. "He just liked having the bears around," Dobson said.

There was no indication Hanger had been profiting off the bears in any way, either by charging tourists to look at them or hunting them, Dobson said.

Dobson said it's unclear how long Hanger had been feeding the bears.

Hanger told the troopers that one sow bear -- he'd named her Mrs. White -- had been coming to him for food for six years. She brought three new cubs to the property this summer, Dobson said.

Hanger admitted the bears had become a problem, something he wanted to fix, said the trooper.

"He didn't tell us to pound sand and go away," Dobson said. "He said, 'What do you guys need me to do?' "

Hanger agreed to let biologists with the Department of Fish and Game trap and tag the bears, the trooper said. Biologists also put collars on bears to track their movements, troopers said.

Biologists are trying to avoid killing the animals, but bears who are used to getting food from humans can be dangerous, Dobson said.

"There's children in the neighborhood, and what's going to happen if a 2- or 3-year-old bear encounters a child and feels this child might have food, or this child might be food?" Dobson said. "That's a bad situation."

A bear wanders in Arnold Hanger's back yard. The yard is next to a house where most of the feeding took place. Video courtesy Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

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