More bear raids reported on Hillside chicken coops

Michelle Theriault Boots

Since Wednesday morning, a bear or bears on the Anchorage Hillside have raided at least six chicken coops, been shot by a homeowner and eaten a garbage can full of meat left out in a yard.

Three of those coops were raided Thursday night or Friday morning, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane, who spent much of the week searching for the wounded bear and following the trail of mayhem.

By Friday, Coltrane was pretty sure a single animal -- the grizzly shot by a homeowner Wednesday morning after it raided a backyard chicken coop -- was responsible for the raids, but she was leaving open the possibility that more than one bear has been getting into trouble.

The week's bear problems could have been avoided, Coltrane said.

None of the raided coops had adequate electric fencing. (Coltrane suggests at least five strands.) At least one had fencing that was turned off at the time of the raid.

A trash bin full of meat left outside a left Coltrane incredulous.

The meat was apparently left out because a freezer used to store it was broken, she said.

Coltrane was disappointed to see unsecured garbage left out the same night many residents were panicked about the wounded grizzly.

"People are all freaked out, there's a wounded bear on the Hillside -- but yet there were trash cans out on the side of the street all over the place."

Whether the culprit is a single, ravenous bear on a chicken bender or multiple bears, they will have to be killed once caught.

It's a depressingly predictable fate, Coltrane said, and it has led to a lot of repeating what she's said many times already: Chickens without electric fencing are an invitation for bear visits.

Meanwhile, some Anchorage Assembly members are asking whether the time has come to revisit the city's backyard chicken ordinance, which in 2011 gave people living on smaller lots the green light to keep chickens.

Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston's said Friday that a few of her constituents have said they think backyard chickens should go.

"A couple people have said 'We gotta get rid of (the ordinance),'" she said.

Johnston said there has been discussion among Assembly members of "tightening up" the ordinance via the Title 21 process.

The rule allows up to five backyard pets, including chickens, on lots of 6,000 square feet or more. For every additional 1,000 square feet, one more animal is allowed.

"Will we outlaw them? No." Johnston said. "We need to make sure people are responsible and understand the risk."

Dick Traini, who was one of two Assembly votes against the ordinance, said recent bear troubles are a clear signal that backyard chickens are untenable in at least some parts of Anchorage.

"I think we need to put some restrictions on where you can have chickens," said Traini. "As we saw with this, nothing is going to stop a bear."

Chris Birch, who represents South Anchorage on the Assembly, said he's up for taking another look at the ordinance.

"I don't know if an electric fence or perimeter is required," he said. "I think it might be a good idea."

One of the chicken-keepers hit by the troublesome bear overnight Thursday says she's adding electric fencing to her coop for the first time.

Geologist Elizabeth Crafford woke up to a "demolished" coop and bear prints on the ground Friday. Two of her chickens were killed.

Crafford has kept a handful of the animals at her lower Hillside neighborhood home for six or seven years without electric fencing -- or problems with bears.

That may have lulled her into complacency, she said.

She doesn't think that backyard chickens should be banned.

But she does say she'll take more precautions in the future.

"I think chicken owners need to be educated about keeping them in a way that isn't going to cause bear-chicken interactions," she said.

On Friday, she went out and bought $300 worth of electric fencing.


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.