Trooper shoots bear drawn to unsecured garbage in Eagle River neighborhood

zhollander@adn.comOctober 31, 2013 

An Alaska Wildlife Trooper shot and killed a young male brown bear drawn by trash to an Eagle River neighborhood off Artillery Road on Wednesday night.

The bear made nightly garbage raids to area neighborhoods all month.

But one home on Loveland Circle with bags of trash and rotting food in the yard proved especially irresistible, authorities said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided to kill the bear last week because its garbage-eating habits made it a danger to the public, area wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane said.

Residents in area subdivisions reported an aggressive brown bear that charged people and wandered onto decks in broad daylight.

Trooper Mike Peltier brought down the bear with a single head shot Wednesday night.

"This bear had to be put down as a direct result of human actions - or lack of actions, the disregard," Peltier said Thursday. "The bear was in that neighborhood every night for a long time and people knew it and yet some folks still managed to forget it or just didn't push their trash up. It came there to eat every night."

The Loveland homeowner was one of two Eagle River residents cited for letting bears get into their garbage within the last week. Both properties are located in a fairly dense subdivision fringed by the forests of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, home to bear, wolves and other wildlife.

The home on Loveland Circle played a significant role in bringing the bear into the neighborhood on such a regular basis, both Coltrane and Peltier said.

The trooper on Oct. 25 cited 71-year-old Karen Johnson for negligently feeding wild game after his search for the bear's food source led him to her home. Trash bags and spoiled food -- soda bottles, old vegetables and bread, leaky tin cans -- spilled off a back deck and also littered the front yard.

The citation comes with a $310 fine, troopers said.

The property is familiar to municipal code enforcement officials.

Code enforcement officer Tim Hamrick first visited in 2006 for a trash and junk complaint, he said. The city eventually assessed an $8,100 fine but Johnson got a lawyer and appealed and the city agreed to waive the fine provided the property got cleaned up, Hamrick said.

"We've had multiple little things between now and then," he said. "She's a habitual hoarder. She cleans up and junks up and cleans up and junks up."

Hamrick said he's opened a new case on the property this week. If it's not cleaned up, more fines are likely.

"She said she's aware, she needs help to get things done," he said.

Johnson could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Peltier first got involved with the case last week after someone delivering newspapers spotted two women feeding the bear from a balcony in the area. He didn't see people feeding the bear. But as he drove around in a marked pickup Oct. 23, residents with bear stories flagged him down.

"Probably 15 people told me the bear had been there every day," Peltier said. "It was aggressive. It was charging kids. It was charging adults."

The trooper spent three nights casing the neighborhood and the bear, making sure he could shoot the bear safely with all the houses around.

"You're the guy who's got to go into a neighborhood and kill that bear because of people's actions and be the one responsible," he said. "What if your first shot doesn't put it down and now it's wounded, running through a residential area? It's a little nerve-racking."

The bear was two or three years old and around 300 pounds, he estimated. Its hide will be salvaged for the Fur Rondy auction.

An Anchorage police officer cited another nearby resident for unlawful feeding of animals on Monday.

The officer responded to a 5:11 a.m. report of a bear in a driveway in the 16000 block of Squaw Valley Circle, according to a case synopsis provided by police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro. Lorraine Gafford, 61, told 911 dispatchers the bear got into her trash can and was hanging around her car.

The officer saw a brown bear on Mausel Street that ran west and crawled under a fence, according to the synopsis. He called Coltrane, who told him to cite Gafford. The citation comes with a $300 fine, Castro said.

Gafford told the officer she forgot to bring her trash into the garage where she normally kept it, the report said. This was the second time the bear had gotten into her trash, it said.

Despite Southcentral's run of unseasonably warm weather, it's not unusual for brown bears to remain active through Thanksgiving. Fall always brings a run of bear problems in the area as black and brown bear try to pack on some calories before they den up.

Various wildlife agencies made numerous attempts over the past few weeks to get residents in the Artillery Road area to keep garbage in bear-proof containers or inside garages until collection day, Coltrane said.

The situation got better but a few residents insisted on leaving trash out.

"The neighborhood was very aware of the problem. We were getting lots of calls. We were hoping to get the trash cleaned up so the bear would stop having an incentive," she said. "However it is incredibly difficult to change human behavior."

Reach Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com or 257-4317.

 

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