The U.S. Forest Service restricted camping at a campground in the Kenai Peninsula town of Hope this weekend after the black bears relocated from Anchorage at Gov. Bill Walker's request apparently tore up an unattended tent with food inside.
The bears -- a sow and four cubs -- were spotted Friday at the Porcupine Campground, which sits at the end of the Hope Highway, said John Eavis, the Forest Service manager who oversees the campground's operation by a concessionaire.
After tearing up the first tent with the food inside, he said, the bears then damaged another tent and were seen in other campsites "poking around motor homes (and) other vehicles."
"So we instituted a prohibition on camping in tents in there until we can see what the situation's going to develop to," Eavis said in a phone interview late Saturday.
Eavis said he couldn't confirm that the bears were the ones relocated from Anchorage. But Ken Marsh, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the campground's host "got a good look" and spotted the tracking collars that were strapped to the bears during the relocation process.
On Saturday, the bears were spotted six or seven miles away from Hope, swimming in Turnagain Arm, by a pilot sent looking for them by the fish and game department, Marsh said.
Marsh and Eavis said their two agencies were coordinating their work and don't have any plans to further relocate the bears or to kill them. Both officials urged campers to be more responsible.
"People need to shore things up as far as not leaving food in tents, keeping trash secured, that sort of thing — keeping your electric fence plugged in if you have poultry," Marsh said.
Fish and Game announced in April that it planned to kill the bears. They'd been rummaging for food in unsecured garbage cans and had drawn groups of onlookers in Anchorage's Government Hill neighborhood.
Walker subsequently called the state fish and game commissioner, Sam Cotten, to ask if the bears could be spared.
They were ultimately outfitted with the tracking collars and taken to the Chickaloon Flats area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. But they showed up in the small community of Hope, about 15 miles away, in early May.
Last week, the bears were suspected of crashing into a chicken coop in Hope and eating some of the chickens. The electric fence surrounding the coop had been turned off.
After Friday's incident, the Forest Service closed tent camping at the Porcupine Campground until further notice, Eavis said. Camping inside cars or motor vehicles is still allowed.
The bears have been moving in a big circle around Hope over the last few days, said Tim Strebel, who answered the phone at the Alaska Dacha, a motel and store in town.
They've been spotted recently chasing a moose and two calves, running through an RV park and near the Hope Highway, Strebel said.
Different residents, he added, view their new neighbors in different ways.
"Some people think it's entertaining, fun to watch," Strebel said. "Other people are pretty irritated."
At the Seaview Cafe and Bar at the center of Hope, Renna Martin, who answered the phone, said she'd heard of the bears getting into residents' garbage and freezers.
Authorities, she said, dropped off bear warning posters to hang in the windows of the cafe and bar "so that people are aware."
Asked about the bears' reappearance and alleged poultry consumption at a news conference Wednesday, Walker responded by saying that he wasn't sure the bears in question were the ones he'd asked to be moved.
"Last I'd heard, they were eating dandelions in Hope — someone said they were perhaps strumming guitars," he joked. "Fish and Game will handle this in their own professional way, and I am no longer involved in helping them do their job. They do it very well without me."