Kodiak brown bear with 4 cubs shot dead at village landfill

Casey Grove

A skinny brown bear sow with four young cubs was shot and killed Monday at the landfill in Old Harbor, a village on Kodiak Island, after repeatedly menacing people, according to Alaska State Troopers.

The bear could not break its habit of eating garbage, even with a new electric fence set up around the landfill and a stream full of salmon nearby, said Larry Van Daele, regional supervisor for the state Department of Fish and Game. Various methods to scare away the bear were unsuccessful, Van Daele said. Troopers say the shooting was necessary to defend human life.

"There's some (bears) that are so used to being there, they're basically junkies, and she was very persistent in trying to get in there, Van Daele said.

The bear dug holes under multiple fences to get to the trash and showed threatening behavior toward landfill workers, Van Daele said. It also charged U.S. Marines, who are in the village building a runway, while they worked with heavy equipment to fill in the sow's holes with large rocks, troopers said.

Trooper Sgt. Eric Olsen said the Old Harbor Bear Patrol Team tried everything to avoid killing the bear. That included blaring the village police officer's vehicle siren and shooting the bear with rubber bullets and bean bags, he said. They put up with the bear for months, Olsen said.

"None of us want to see a bear get shot," Olsen said. "There's only so much you can do."

It was about 12:30 p.m. Monday when a landfill worker opened a gate and the bear sow ran inside, Olsen said. The worker alerted the Bear Patrol Team, he said, and a member of the team came and shot the bear.

A short written statement from troopers described the bear as blind in one eye and "very emaciated," with almost no fat layers. Van Daele, with Fish and Game, said bears this time of year are often skinny and still trying to build up body fat for the winter. It was likely difficult to feed the cubs, Van Daele said. Four is an unusually high number of cubs, which are usually born in twos and threes.

A normal female Kodiak brown bear is often more than 7 feet long and weighs about 400 pounds, said Van Daele. Van Daele said he had not seen the sow's carcass as of Tuesday and did not know her exact size or age.

The cubs, which looked to have been born this spring, have not been seen near the landfill since the sow's shooting, Van Daele said. Fish and Game administrators keep a list of organizations interested in taking orphaned cubs, such as zoos, but there were no such groups hoping to take in the cubs of the sow killed Monday, he said.

"Their chances of survival are not that great," Van Daele said.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.