Black bears removed from Anchorage neighborhood show up in Hope

The family of five black bears captured and relocated after they foraged through garbage cans in Anchorage's Government Hill neighborhood briefly appeared Tuesday in Hope, a small town on Turnagain Arm.

Ken Marsh, public information officer for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the sow and four cubs had traveled eastward from the Chickaloon Flats area of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to Hope -- the two areas separated by a roughly 15-mile barrier of mountains and a rocky coastline.

Fish and Game moved the bears to the refuge, across Turnagain Arm from South Anchorage, on Friday. Before Tuesday, the department wouldn't reveal the bears' new location.

"We really wanted to give them the best opportunity not to be followed," Marsh said. "We wanted them just to be out there and kind of have a clean slate."

The bears gained notoriety last month after they returned to Government Hill, a densely populated neighborhood near downtown Anchorage. The sow and yearlings rummaged for food in garbage cans not sufficiently bear-proofed. They climbed backyard fences and drew groups of onlookers, Marsh said.

Citing public safety concerns, Fish and Game regional wildlife biologist David Saalfeld announced at an April community council meeting that the department planned to kill the bears. If relocated within the Anchorage area, they would likely return, he said.

The decision sparked passionate public outcry. Soon after, Gov. Bill Walker called the Fish and Game commissioner to ask if the bears could be relocated rather than shot.

Over four days, Fish and Game captured all five bears and took them to the Anchorage Zoo before they were airlifted by a contracted helicopter to the refuge. The bears all wore collars and would be tracked, Marsh said.

On Monday, Fish and Game tracked the bears to the Hope area.

"We thought, 'OK, we better get a news release ready, it looks like these things might be going into town,' " Marsh said. But the bears skirted the community and traveled a couple of miles to the east.

However, when a contracted pilot flew over the area Tuesday to track the bears, he spotted them walking among homes south of Hope Highway.

Jeff Selinger, the Soldotna-area wildlife biologist for Fish and Game, said the pilot reported it didn't appear the bears had gotten into any trash.

"He said that they were moseying around. They weren't showing any aggression," Selinger said.

Selinger said he and an assistant spent Tuesday alerting the community that the bears were in the area and that residents should take precaution.

Valerie DeFrance, a paramedic in Hope, said it's not unusual to see bears in the area, "but they're usually just passing through."

DeFrance said she didn't see the bears but heard about them from a number of others.

"I'm a little concerned because I don't want to end up treating people with bear injuries," she said. "I wish they would have located them a little farther out."

By late afternoon, the pilot reported that the bears -- after grazing on a residential lawn -- had moved to the west of Resurrection Creek and were heading south up the creek, away from Hope. They appeared to be eating dandelions, Marsh said.

"Maybe they'll continue to be wild bears, and that's the best we can hope for," he said.

Selinger said Fish and Game planned to have the pilot fly over the area again Wednesday and check on the bears' location.

So far, he said, "they're behaving well."

But Marsh said that by Saturday, Fish and Game began receiving reports from Government Hill of new black bears in the neighborhood.