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Troublesome grizzlies first attracted by trash

Michelle Theriault Boots
Photo courtesy SCOTT HIRSTEIN

Wildlife biologists believe up to four young grizzly bears had been cruising a densely populated area of Rabbit Creek Road near the Goldenview Park subdivision for close to a week, attracted first by unsecured garbage.

A homeowner shot and killed one of the grizzlies Sunday after the bear killed a pet llama. Since then, at least one other bear has returned several times to the site of the kill, visible from busy Rabbit Creek Road.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane said she first heard reports of brown bears getting into unsecured trash and trying to break into a garage, where fish eggs were curing, through a dog door in Goldenview Park last Wednesday or Thursday.

The owners of the llama said they thought they saw a sow and two cubs but Coltrane said multiple sets of cubs are more likely.

"There are very probably two sets of bears in the Rabbit Creek area right now," she said.

That's not unusual: Grizzlies move up and down the creek corridor throughout the summer, she said.

"Most of the time people don't see them," Coltrane said.

But emboldened first by garbage, she said, they're getting uncomfortably close to people and livestock.

That's a situation that's almost always a "death sentence for the bear," Coltrane said.

She has not yet been to the property where the llama was killed.

Mike Gribbon's elderly, snaggletoothed llama Ande, a favorite attraction at children's birthday parties, was killed by one of the bears Sunday morning. Since then, bears have returned to the kill site at least four times.

The dead llama and the visible presence of an indeterminate number of grizzly bears in the neighborhood is enough to spook some neighbors into arming themselves.

Rabbit Creek Road neighbors reported hearing gunfire just after midnight on Monday.

Gribbon said that while a friend with a gun was up watching for the bear, which he fears will come back to eat his miniature horses, he didn't fire any shots.

Police say that while Alaskans can legally shoot a bear in defense of life and property, discharging a firearm in the middle of a neighborhood shouldn't be done lightly.

"You do have a right to defend your property from critters intent on mayhem," said Anchorage Police Department spokesman Lt. Dave Parker. "But it should be a last resort."

Every summer, bears are killed under such circumstances, either by citizens or by a law enforcement agency. Most are black bears.

In 2011, one brown bear was killed in defense of life and property by a moose hunter in the municipality, according to Fish and Game data. In 2010, two brown bears were shot by citizens.

In 2011, 14 black bears were killed by citizens and agency personnel. The year before, 17 were killed.

Coltrane said that brown bears killed in defense of life and property are typically 2- or 3-year-old sub-adults that weigh a few hundred pounds.

Unsecured trash causes major problems every summer, Coltrane said. Fish and Game recommends using bear-safe garbage cans. Pets and livestock pose a risk that can be mitigated with electric fencing.

Gribbon said he's taking shifts watching over the property with friends and neighbors. He won't hesitate to kill a returning grizzly threatening his horses, he said.

"It's a problem bear and it's going to go away eventually," Gribbon said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News