(Video by Rich Phillips)
State wildlife biologists shot and killed four black bears Wednesday afternoon at Anchorage's Centennial Campground near Muldoon after one of the bears reportedly tore into a tent with a camper inside, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The bears — a sow and three cubs — had caused issues in the area for weeks, said Ken Marsh, a Fish and Game spokesman. They had gotten into trash in the campground and adjacent neighborhoods, he said. They started to become more aggressive, nabbing food left on picnic tables and in tents.
Then Wednesday, Fish and Game got a report that the sow was tearing into a tent with someone inside, Marsh said.
"That was kind of the last straw," he said.
Fish and Game wildlife biologists shot and killed the sow and its three cubs shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday at the campground on the edge of the city, off the Glenn Highway. Marsh said the department couldn't find any licensed wildlife facility with room for the three black bear cubs, including the local zoo and out-of-state facilities.
Marsh said the meat from the four black bears would be salvaged. The cubs were born late this past winter or early this spring, he said.
The campground this summer had recorded at least five prior incidents in which the four black bears got into human food, whether left unattended on a table or in a tent, said Brad Cooke, outdoor recreation superintendent with Anchorage's Parks and Recreation Department.
Cooke said he had received no reports of the bears acting aggressively toward campers or causing injury. Marsh said he had also not heard of the bears causing any injuries, including to the camper in the tent Wednesday.
Camper Melanie Ritter said a bear had torn into her tent earlier this week while she was away from the campsite. She returned to a 2-foot-long hole in the tent and a punctured 2-liter bottle of soda. She said she was sharing the tent with a friend and they had stored the rest of their food in a truck.
"We were lucky we were out walking the dogs," Ritter said. "Thank God I wasn't here."
Another camper, Rich Phillips, said he saw the four black bears moments before they were shot and killed by Fish and Game. The three cubs had scaled a tree. People who he believed were also camping were throwing rocks at them, he said. He said the sow wasn't acting aggressively, but believed it was trying to protect the cubs.
"All I know is they didn't have to kill the bears," he said. "It was sad."
Marsh said Centennial Park, which houses the campground, "has bear issues frequently — probably every summer."
Last year, a 911 caller reported a bear was on top of a tent in the woods outside of the campground. Fish and Game later said the bear got away and a woman inside the tent wasn't hurt.
Patrick Lampi, executive director at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, said it's particularly difficult to find permanent homes for orphaned black bear cubs because there are so many black bears — the animals can be found in nearly every state — and, in captivity, they can live 30 years or more. So, once a zoo gets a few black bears, they typically can't take any more for decades, he said.
The Alaska Zoo is currently holding two black bear cubs, one that will go to Washington state and one to Illinois, in addition to its permanent bear residents, Lampi said.
"We can't handle any more," he said.
The bear killings Wednesday come less than a week after Fish and Game killed a brown bear sow and two cubs 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. It was the second fatal bear attack in the Municipality of Anchorage in two summers.
Marc Lester contributed reporting to this story.