State wildlife biologists shot and killed a brown bear sow and two cubs Friday in the South Fork Eagle River Valley. DNA tests will determine whether the sow was involved in the two maulings in the area last month that left one man dead and another injured, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Concerned neighbors reported the three bears to Fish and Game Friday morning, said Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the department. He said the bears were on or near Harp Mountain — a peak hikers can access from a trail head at the end of Hiland Road.
"If you were standing where the bears were, you could look down the mountain and see the attack sites," Marsh said.
Biologists shot the three brown bears from a helicopter on Friday. The cubs were either 1 or 2 years old, Marsh said. The bears' carcasses were airlifted out. Hair and tissue samples taken from the animals will be compared to the hair, blood and saliva collected at the mauling sites, Marsh said. The analyses will take at least a week, he said.
Earlier DNA tests confirmed that the bear involved in both June maulings was a sow, Marsh said. It's not yet clear whether it was the same sow.
Marsh said biologists considered darting the sow on Friday, taking DNA samples and releasing it with a tracking collar, but concluded it was too much of a risk. They killed the two cubs as a safety precaution as well, he said.
"Bears learn from their mothers, just like people do," he said. "It's just a chance that we can't take."
The killings came days after Fish and Game reset traps in the valley after receiving two more reports of close-range brown bear encounters in the area. One hiker was bluff-charged by a brown bear cub, Marsh said, while another group of hikers reportedly discharged a gun to scare off a sow with cubs.
Marsh expected the bear traps to remain in the area until tests confirm whether the sow killed was involved in the maulings. He also expected the popular South Fork trailhead to remain closed indefinitely.
The two June bear maulings in the area occurred in the same week.
Michael Soltis, 44, went missing June 18. He lived a few miles from the end of Hiland Road, a winding, 9-mile-long route into the mountain-rimmed valley. It's believed he set out for a quick hike before dinner and never returned.
Two days later, Paul Vasquez, 51, was out looking for Soltis when he reportedly put himself between a charging brown bear and another searcher in the woods near the end of Hiland Road. He suffered leg injuries. Soltis' body was found in the same area. Police said it appeared the bear was protecting the body when it attacked Vasquez.
Soltis' death is the second fatal bear attack in the Municipality of Anchorage in two summers.