A black bear sow and two cubs that have been making appearances in Anchorage's U-Med district in recent days showed up Monday at a children's day camp on the campus of Alaska Pacific University and stole several lunchboxes, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The bears sauntered onto the university's soccer fields around 11:45 a.m., soon after the campers attending Camp Si-La-Meo finished eating lunch at canopy-covered picnic tables nearby, said Katie Adrian, program manager at the camp.
"All that was left in their lunches were snacks for later in the afternoon," she said. "(The bears) were sort of wandering in and out. They did not show any aggression at all."
Camp staff corralled the children playing a few yards away when they spied the trio approaching. The bears carried a few lunchboxes into the woods and ripped them open. Eventually, they simply walked away, Adrian said.
The lunchbox incident prompted a policy change at Camp Si-La-Meo, a school-age summer program run by Camp Fire Alaska. Now the 175 campers eat closer to the university's Moseley Sports Center and store their food indoors in plastic bins, Adrian said.
Dave Battle, an assistant area wildlife biologist with Fish and Game, said the department had no plans Tuesday to remove the bears from the area, but said, "I can't say what's going to happen over the next few days."
The bears have not shown signs of aggression toward humans. Fish and Game does not consider them a public safety hazard, Battle said. Plus, he said, the species' presence in the area is typical.
"We have bears going through there every year. This is not a unique situation. They go through Baxter Bog and they go through UAA and APU campus," Battle said. "We don't want to have to take action against bears when they go into that area. There's a lot of bear habitat in that area, so they kind of naturally go over there."
Battle said relocating urban bears poses certain problems. There's worry that the animals will spread diseases or parasites to other bear populations. It's difficult for Fish and Game to find safe places to establish bear traps free from human interference. Also, bears are notorious for returning to their home territory if moved, he said.
"They've been documented coming back from 100 miles away," he said.
The sow and cubs have been spotted in the U-Med area for about two weeks. Photographers have caught the sow diving into trash bins and the cubs have been seen climbing campus trees. The University of Alaska Anchorage, an abutting campus that the bears perused last week, issued a number of safety alerts.
"We are hoping that people are responsible, stay back from them, secure their garbage and don't leave food unattended," Battle said.
He said the bears were likely still on campus Tuesday, though he had not received any new reports. Battle said he had also fielded recent calls about a black bear sow and her three cubs walking around the Government Hill neighborhood and reminded residents to keep their trash secure.
Update: Fish and Game confirmed Wednesday that while initial calls reported a black bear sow and three cubs in the Government Hill neighborhood, later reports said there was one black bear sow and four cubs.
By TEGAN HANLON
Alaska Dispatch Publishing