Fish and Game biologists on Tuesday night killed a large brown bear implicated in a series of unusual and brazen attempted break-ins at Stuckagain Heights homes.
A post-mortem examination of the grizzly showed it wasn't the same bear wounded by a Hillside homeowner and suspected in a rash of at least six chicken coop raids late last week.
Biologists had initially thought the same bear might be responsible.
"We were hoping the chicken-eating bear was doing break-ins," said Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane on Wednesday.
But a second bear -- still on the loose -- is likely responsible for the coop mayhem, she said.
The bear killed Tuesday night was an adult male that Coltrane estimates weighed between 700-800 pounds.
Biologists said they believe it had attacked at least three garage doors and side doors in the Stuckagain Heights area in recent days, causing thousands of dollars of property damage.
A bear trying to break down garage doors is "very unusual," Coltrane said.
The behavior was particularly confounding, Coltrane said, because the houses hit didn't have any obvious bear-luring attractants such as chickens or open garbage containers.
"(The homeowners) weren't doing anything wrong," she said.
GRIZZLY AT THE GARAGE DOOR
Joan Bundtzen and her husband woke Monday at 5 a.m. to police at their front door.
Sometime in the early hours of the morning a large bear had savaged their garage doors to get inside, officers said.
They found the sturdy double doors on their Stuckagain Heights log home folded up like paper. The bear had ripped off sockets and bent in panels, leaving claw marks on the door and paint cans splayed across the floor.
Left curiously untouched inside: Dozens of bags of dog food stacked against a wall.
Bundtzen and her husband, veteran Iditarod musher Robert Bundtzen, slept through the whole thing.
Because the family keeps a full dog yard on their property at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, they are used to sleeping through disturbances, she said Wednesday.
Joan Bundtzen, a retired clinical pathologist, couldn't shake the thought of what might have happened if the bear had continued inside the garage.
"The idea that a grizzly bear can rip out doors and walk right upstairs to where you are sleeping is a sobering thought," she said.
The bear, she thinks, must not have been right in the head.
"I think it's a crazy bear," she said.
At her next-door neighbor Bill Kiger's house, sometime Sunday night or early Monday morning, the bear tried to push the garage double door in.
It left claw marks and broke a nearby 22-inch-by-36-inch glass panel.
The animal was "tall enough to put its nose on top of the header board of the garage door," said Kiger, who works for the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation.
After visiting to investigate the incident Fish and Game biologists set a trap baited with dog food in Kiger's yard.
At around 11 p.m. on Tuesday, he called Fish and Game to let them know the bear was inside, according to Coltrane.
Biologists arrived and killed it with a gunshot before 11:30, she said.
"I feel safer already," said Bundtzen, who said she'd still be taking her usual canister of bear spray on neighborhood walks with her dog.
BEAR IN THE HOUSE
Coltrane said she thinks a clue to the bear's break-in agenda may lie in a summertime burglary in the neighborhood.
Early in the summer, a Stuckagain Heights home was burglarized while the homeowner was on vacation, she said.
The burglar or burglars left doors wide open, and in the bear-country of the Anchorage Hillside, animals quickly took advantage.
By the time the homeowner returned, a bear or bears "had been living in and ransacking her house for who knows how long," Coltrane said.
Fish and Game biologists set a trap for that bear for weeks but never caught it.
"Then all of a sudden we see all this pushing-door and pushing-garage-door behavior," she said.
One theory is that the bear shot Tuesday night was the same bear, trying out techniques learned over the summer on a new set of homes before hibernation.
But that's just a theory, Coltrane said.
October often brings a spike in bear activity in Anchorage, as animals that have fed on salmon and berries for months look for their last big meals before hibernation.
But the Stuckagain Heights break-ins were not typical behavior.
"It is disturbing," Coltrane said. "And that's why we spent so much time looking for this bear."
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.
By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS