HOMER, Alaska -- Considering how this spring started -- with a brown bear being killed in April after it attacked a family out for a day of birding at the Kasilof River mouth -- things could be worse in terms of human-bear interactions.
“It’s been a relatively quiet year, especially the last few weeks,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
To date, there have been eight brown bears shot in defense of life or property on the Kenai Peninsula, fewer than any year in the past decade with the exception of last year, which was one of the lowest on record.
“All of last year we only had eight DLPs, but that was an exceptional year,” Selinger said.
Following the Kasilof beach incident April 28 -- it was later deemed the bear was likely blind and starving, possibly leading to it lashing out at anything that moved -- another bear, an adult brown bear male, was shot by a homeowner off Arc Loop Road south of Soldotna.
“It was right at the start of May and it was getting into chickens and pigs,” Selinger said.
A day later, another bear was killed, this time south of Kasilof, off of Wise Owl Avenue, formerly known as Falls Creek Road, when an adult male was threatening a homeowner’s dogs. Human-bear activity was quiet for a few weeks, then on May 26 a subadult sow was shot after it charged a homeowner on Robinson Loop.
As the calendar flipped to June, Selinger said that the month started with a remote DLP when a bear was threatening cattle off of Sheep Creek in the Fox River drainage.
“That was male, roughly 4 to 5 years old,” Selinger said.
On June 5, another subadult was shot near a residence in Seward. Selinger said he was still waiting for the full report to come in with the details of the shooting and the age and sex of that bear.
A day later, another sow -- this time with cubs -- was shot off of Strawberry Road, by hunters targeting black bear.
“They were going to their (bait) site when the sow charged,” Selinger said. “They didn’t even see the cubs until the sow was dead. We went out and tried to capture them but have been unsuccessful.”
Since the shooting June 6, there have not been any other DLPs, which Selinger said is the typical seasonal pattern.
“When they first come out of hibernation they’re desperate to eat, so if anyone has trash or other attractants around, livestock not properly protected, anything that will make an easy meal, it’ll draw in bears,” he said. “But now we’ve had the big flux of moose calves drop, so bears are starting to feed more naturally, so things quiet down and will stay that way unless people start getting negligent with fish carcasses as the salmon season builds.”
Already bears are being reported regularly in prime fishing areas, such as near the Russian River and its confluence with the Kenai River. Anglers in those areas are asked by wildlife officials to exercise caution and either filet fish away from the fishing site or dispose of fish carcasses properly, by cutting them into small chunks and throwing them into the fastest, deepest parts of the flowing water.
Closer to town, while there haven’t been any DLPs recently, there have been several sightings of brown bears moving through town at various locations. It is unclear if it is the same trio of bears -- a sow and two cubs -- or two or more sets of mothers and cubs.
“We were just heading to Fred Meyer at around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday night when my son shouted, ‘I think I just saw a bear,’” said Ellie Nelson, of Soldotna, while passing the “Y” intersection in Soldotna.
They turned around to go back for a better look. Sure enough, not only did her son spot a bear, but there were three of them climbing in the Dumpster behind the Cornerstone Marketplace building that houses River City Books and several other businesses.
“We watched them for 45 minutes, two cars of us with about eight people total and they didn’t seem scared at all. We were only about 20 feet away, but they just kept going through the trash, ripping everything apart, looking for food,” she said.
Nelson even left, went home, told a friend about the bears and went back. They bears were still at it. “It was awesome to see, a huge sow with two cubs that didn’t look like newborns, but it was a little scary to see it right in the center of town,” she said.
A friend of Nelson’s called and alerted the Alaska State Troopers, who have been fielding several calls about bear activity in town. Call volume has been to a degree that troopers are asking people to stop calling with just sightings of bears and call only if bears are threatening or attacking people, animals or attempting to break into houses.
Troopers already are aware of a trio of bears spotted in the Kalifornsky Beach Road area this weekend, rummaging through trash at various locations between Murwood Avenue and Gaswell Road.
In an effort to get the bears to move on, and not have to be dispatched by troopers or Fish and Game, Selinger asked residents to minimize attractants. Bird feeders — suet and seed — should be taken down. Pet and livestock food, trash and other bear attractants should be stored inside, in a garage, sturdy shed or in bear-resistant containers. Owners of chickens, goats and other small livestock should consider erecting electric fences to discourage raids by bears.
“Minimizing attractants reduces the likelihood of potentially dangerous interactions, loss of personal property and the unnecessary destruction of bears,” Selinger said. “Feeding bears, even unintentionally, is illegal, and leaving attractants out around homes, cabins or camps in a manner that attracts bears can result in fines.”
Joseph Robertia is a correspondent for The Redoubt Reporter, which covers the Kenai Peninsula. Used with permission.