Police chase scavenging black bear out of Bartlett High

Entering public building "a new one for us," says wildlife expert.

Anchorage Daily NewsJune 13, 2012 

Anchorage police officers say they scared a small black bear out of Bartlett High School after it wandered in an open door Wednesday afternoon.

Part of the school in East Anchorage -- home to the Golden Bears -- is under construction, so some doors were left open allowing the bear to get in, said Officer Chris Mueller. Staff inside the school evacuated the building while police went inside, Mueller said.

"She was shopping. Any trash can that had any food in it was knocked over," he said. "She peed in the hall at one point. Another teenage ne'er-do-well, just a different species."

Officers banged on doors, and the bear ran outside, Mueller said.

Eugene Dixon was cutting weeds when he saw the bear scamper away from the school, about 50 feet from him, and head to a wooded area at the corner of a parking lot. It stood about waist high, he said.

State biologists Dave Battle and Sean Farley arrived in the parking lot within an hour, aiming to dart the bear and put a tracking collar on it. It was for an urban black bear study that would involve tracking the bear, Battle said.

"The intent of the study is to look at movement patterns of the bears that are causing problems within town," Farley said. "The urban bears are the ones that cause all the interest with people, and they're the ones that are most likely to have interactions with people."

Farley wants to dart and collar four black bears well within the city limits -- the study is not interested in bears closer to Chugach State Park -- and track their movements. If they can get the first four collars working properly, and the data prove valuable, the research could be expanded, Farley said. One bear is already collared, he said.

The idea is not to use the tracking device to deal with specific bears, but to get a general sense of what the bears are doing, Farley said.

"We just want to know where they're going and see if there are any patterns that they have that might reflect overall what the bear population is doing," Farley said.

Planned months before this summer's local bear encounters, the study is looking at ways to improve bear and human behavior, Farley said.

Wildlife officials have shot and killed three brown bears in or near Anchorage so far this year, and smaller black bears have been seen in several public places, including two hospitals, in recent weeks. And there's always the bears raiding trash cans on Anchorage's Hillside, the biologists say.

Still, it's rare that a bear would wander into a public building, Farley said. "That's sort of a new one for us."

As Battle and some fellow researchers from out of state looked on, Farley opened a rifle case holding a shiny black dart gun. It had the look of an assault rifle, he said, but is powered by compressed gas. Farley opened another case, took out a dart with liquid sedative inside, and loaded it in the gun.

Farley and Battle walked northeast toward Bartlett's track and cross-country trails. They returned 20 to 30 minutes later without the bear.

"No sign," Farley said. "We'll just wait for the next report."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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