Alaska Department of Fish and Game officers have killed a 2-year-old female brown bear that had become dangerously comfortable around humans along the Turnagain Arm Trail. The animal was put down about noon Tuesday.
"Her habituation to people was her demise," said Fish and Game biologist Jessy Coltrane.
Starting in April, the bear was repeatedly sighted along the trail and the Seward Highway between Potter and Windy Corner. She drew crowds of spectators with cameras, surprised runners and boldly approached hikers. She appeared to have been drawn to pullouts along the road by discarded garbage, fish and a dog carcass.
Authorities posted warning signs and, in one case, used rubber bullets to chase her off.
The bear's behavior was normal given its age, the season and the location, said Coltrane.
Turnagain Arm Trail is a sort of "Bermuda Triangle for bear activity in the spring," she said, "a hot spot. We get weird negative encounters there every year. Lots of bears use the area in the spring and so do lots of people."
Most bears move elsewhere as summer comes on.
The animal was at an age when the young bears are "just trying to find their way in the world," Coltrane said. "Testing their boundaries, testing their dominance. It's a bad lesson to learn around urban areas.
"People were getting very close. We had increasing reports of encounters along the trail."
The bear never came closer than 20 feet, but it was developing a "high tolerance" for humans.
"Most people didn't respond the way they should," Coltrane said. "They would be running and backing away. Bears learn that they can push people, and that's not good."
The final straw came early Tuesday morning when a woman hiking alone near McHugh Creek was charged by the bear. It came within 35 feet of her, Coltrane said, a bluff charge.
"The hiker hightailed it and ran," Coltrane said. "Running is probably the hands-down worst thing you can do."
Receiving that report, Fish and Game personnel made the decision to destroy the animal. They found the bear eating trash in a pullout between Potter and McHugh Creek. An Anchorage police officer was already on site and kept an eye on it while Coltrane returned to the city to get her equipment.
By the time she returned, the bear had traveled north and was across from Chugach State Park headquarters at Potter Valley.
The bear did not act aggressively, Coltrane said. "We had a hard time getting close to her. She kept running from us. If you showed some dominance, she got out of there."
Coltrane darted the bear to determine whether it was the one that escaped from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage in April. That bear was microchipped and had a 6-inch scar from having been spayed. The darted bear had neither. To be certain, Coltrane summoned the director of the center, Mike Miller. He arrived and confirmed that it was not his animal.
The bear was dispatched with shotgun slug to the head.
"It was a crappy thing to do," Coltrane said. "She didn't maul anybody. Anywhere else in the wilderness and it wouldn't have been an issue. I was hoping the bear would move off. I was hoping that people would start behaving. But we didn't have any choice."
Coltrane urged people to refer to the safety tips at the department's website, adfg.alaska.gov. (Look under "Living With Wildlife" under the "Species" tag.) Those tips include:
• Avoid surprising bears at close distance; look for signs of bears and make plenty of noise.
• Avoid crowding bears; respect their "personal space."
• Avoid attracting bears through improper handling of food or garbage.
• Plan ahead, stay calm, identify yourself as a human, don't run.
"Please, please, do not run from bears," Coltrane pleaded.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.