Alaska Wildlife Troopers killed an adult male black bear at the Centennial Park Campground in East Anchorage on Wednesday. It’s the fifth black bear put down since the municipality shut its mass-care shelter for the homeless at Sullivan Arena at the end of June and began moving people and resources to what had previously been a recreational campground on the edge of the Chugach Mountains.
“It was just a few feet from a tent when they killed it,” said Dave Battle, Anchorage area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He was on his way to the campground to respond to a report of a bear when wildlife troopers with the state Department of Public Safety arrived and dispatched the animal.
Battle said wildlife officials are confident the bear was the same one reported a day earlier that was entering tents. Typically managers will not shoot a black bear until it begins going inside human structures.
Bears are proving to be a significant issue at Centennial Park, in large part because of all the food necessary to support an estimated 200 people staying there. Authorities have tried to discourage campers from keeping unsecured food at their sites and inside tents, and spent thousands of dollars on bear-proof storage containers, but it’s an uphill battle. Grills, fire rings and picnic tables are everywhere, with meals and snacks distributed throughout the day, and it’s difficult to abide by best practices for living outdoors in bear country.
“It’s a continual large-scale attractant. It’s not just the occasional tent that has it, it seems to be a lot of the tents that have it,” Battle said. “Unless we can keep attractants out of tents, almost any bear that happens by there is going to end up in the camp and in tents … it’s a very unfortunate situation.”
The camp is situated between the Glenn Highway and Chugach State Park, which is filled with black bears — and a fair number of brown bears, though none have yet been reported inside Centennial.
“Our biggest concern with this is the location of the camp. Centennial is right on the edge of a large contiguous wilderness,” Battle said. “It’s a practically unlimited supply of bears.”
Earlier this month, Fish and Game killed four bears that were frequenting the encampment and getting into tents.
Two more black bears, a sow and a cub, have been reported around the grounds in recent days, Battle said, though he had not yet heard whether they have gone inside people’s living spaces. If that’s the case, they will likely be shot, he said.
Bears have always been a problem at Centennial Campground. Battle said that in the past, wildlife managers would deal with it by educating campers about bear awareness, and if people repeatedly violated the rules, they would be ejected from the site.
“In this situation, they don’t seem to be able to evict people,” Battle said.
He added that the killing of any bear is “just a Band-Aid” given the location and factors at play in the camp.