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Costs of relocating Government Hill black bears approach $10,000

A family of black bears captured and relocated from Anchorage's Government Hill neighborhood appear to be staying near the spot they were released into the wilds last week, but the move came at a cost.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game said it has spent $9,400 to move the family of five bears from the densely populated Anchorage neighborhood to the Chickaloon Flats area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge last month.

The bears were moved after Gov. Bill Walker implored Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten to consider alternatives to killing the family of five bears that had been consuming garbage in Government Hill. Instead of euthanizing them, the department captured the bears and moved them south, to the Kenai Peninsula.

Despite making a brief appearance near the community of Hope, ?the bears were last spotted closer to where they were first released last week, said Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh. The bears appear to be heading south, away from Hope and into the wilderness area of the refuge, Marsh wrote in an email.

Marsh said the $9,400 figure represents costs associated with four VHF collars, one GPS collar for the bears, and drugs for sedation -- including antibiotics -- to assist in their capture and transport. Other expenses included an air taxi, and the cost of baiting and trapping the animals.

Marsh noted that figure does not include the cost of staff time dedicated to dealing with the bears. He said one biologist -- Anchorage's Dave Saalfeld -- spent 178 hours dealing with the bears since they first appeared in the neighborhood April 12. Of those hours, 112 were considered "normal" work hours he would have worked regardless. Marsh said that includes time spent dealing with the bears before it was decided they would be relocated.

Marsh said Saalfeld was just one of four biologists who assisted in monitoring and capturing the bears and that numerous other Fish and Game staff put in time working on the case.

Also not counted in the costs was an additional $2,000 in flights to continue monitoring the bears on the Kenai Peninsula. Marsh said that cost would increase as biologists continue to monitor the bears occasionally for the rest of the year, but the department is not including that cost as part of the relocation efforts because it's being used to monitor the bears.

The goal is to use the bears as a test case to see how they handle relocation, in case the department finds itself needing to relocate other bears in the future.

"We needed to capture and relocate these bears, let's see if we can't get a little more science out of this," Marsh said in a phone interview Friday.

But Fish and Game Regional Supervisor Larry Van Daele noted other efforts to relocate bears in the past have failed and it's unlikely moving bears will become a common occurrence for the department. He said with the current budget climate, any sort of unanticipated cost impacts the department, but that the expense of relocating the Government Hill bears represents only a small portion of his region's $4 million annual budget.

It's been years since the department last relocated bears, and Van Daele said the current situation allows the department to at least have some new data on what happens when the bears are released into the wild.

"Hopefully that excess cost we hadn't anticipated can be used for something worthwhile in the future," he said of the information they hope to collect.

Asked for additional comment, Walker's Press Secretary Grace Jang wrote in an email the governor "has full faith and trust in the capable and seasoned staff of Fish and Game. Relocating the bear family was a suggestion, and the Governor defers to the professional judgment of those in the department."

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