Brown and black bears are still awake in the Anchorage area, biologists warn

A homeowner in Eagle River shot and killed a brown bear early Wednesday after it raided a chicken coop, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The bear was killed off West Lake Drive in the Eagle River Valley under defense of life and property laws, said Dave Battle, Fish and Game’s Anchorage-area wildlife biologist.

On Wednesday afternoon, the bear’s partially cleaned carcass could be seen in the backyard of the home as a man salvaged the animal’s skull and hide. Under Alaska law, anyone who shoots a bear in defense of life or property must submit a kill report form to the department and salvage the hide and skull (for predators like bears and wolves) or meat (for game animals such as moose and caribou) and surrender it to the state. A pair of Alaska State Troopers at the scene said the homeowner wasn’t interested in talking about the incident.

The bear appears to have been dodging bullets in the semi-rural neighborhood on the slopes of the Eagle River Valley since at least Monday night, when a homeowner on Columbia Glacier Loop — one street away from Wednesday’s shooting — told police he fired a handgun to scare off a brown bear that had gotten into his chicken coop.

Battle believes that was the bear shot Wednesday.

“The Eagle River bear started hitting chickens so it had a new food item on its menu,” he said. That calorie source could have kept the bear from heading into its den.

Battle cautioned that some bears — both black and brown — have yet to enter their dens in this fall’s unusually warm weather. Southcentral Alaska has seen temperatures consistently higher than normal all year, according to the National Weather Service. Food availability is also a factor keeping some bears awake, Battle said.

“We’re kind of easing into winter here,” he said. “There’s not much snow. It’s not been terribly cold. So we’ve still got a few bears hanging around and trying to pack the last calories in before they go into the den.”

Typically, black bears enter their dens in October, with most brown bears denning by November, Battle said.

This year, Battle said, “there’s probably a little more last-minute bear activity before winter, but not egregiously so.”

Fish and Game has gotten recent reports of a brown bear in South Anchorage and a black bear around Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson, Battle said. Social media posts in Anchorage have also indicated bears remain restless. On Tuesday, a black bear was reportedly roaming East Anchorage, with photos of the animal near East High and the Chester Creek trail showing up on the Airport Heights Watch page on Facebook.

So far this year, seven bears have been killed in the Municipality of Anchorage due to conflicts with humans, including the brown bear on Wednesday. It’s a dramatic decrease from the past two years.

Battle cautioned Alaskans to continue to keep their bird feeders inside and secure their outdoor trash bins. He also reminded people to use electric fences to protect their chicken coops.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.

Matt Tunseth

Matt Tunseth is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and former editor of the Alaska Star.