Denali Park officials kill ‘food-conditioned’ grizzly in Kantishna-Wonder Lake area

Denali National Park and Preserve officials say they decided last week to kill a grizzly bear after it got into food stored in cabins, sheds and lodges in the Kantishna-Wonder Lake section of the park.

The bear, a large young adult male, was shot Friday after it was caught in a culvert trap and immobilized, park officials say.

The area of the park sits at the end of the 92-mile road that leads off the Parks Highway. There are fewer people in the area than usual, officials say. Visitation is sharply down this season because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, and a number of lodges decided not to open.

Still, because of the amount of food the bear consumed and the fact its raids started last year, park staff decided to euthanize it -- a difficult decision, officials say.

“Gaining access to unnatural foods created a circumstance that threatened the safety of visitors and staff, and resulted in the loss of this animal,” Dave Schirokauer, the biologist who heads the park’s science and resources team, said in a statement. “This is a sad and important reminder that keeping bears away from human and pet food, as well as garbage, is the most effective way to prevent conflicts between bears and people.”

Bear activity was discovered in the area starting last year, according to a Denali release Monday. Park road crews also discovered “significant damage” to facilities in the area in the spring. Wildlife staffers set traps and motion-activated cameras to monitor bear activity. They had hoped to trap the bear, collar it, and discourage the bear from returning to human-occupied areas with methods like loud noise and lights, according to park spokesman G.W. Hitchcock.

Techniques like those helped successfully haze other bears in the Savage River area of the park this season, officials say.


But in this case, wildlife staff recommending killing the bear, which was transported to Fairbanks for necropsy by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game veterinarian.

“Removing a bear from the ecosystem is a rare event in Denali,” Tom Medema, acting superintendent, said in a statement. “Our mandate is to preserve and protect both wildlife and human life, and these types of actions are very difficult and weigh heavily (on) park staff.”

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Zaz Hollander

Zaz Hollander is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su and is currently an ADN local news editor and reporter. She covers breaking news, the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.