Anchorage On Edge As Grizzlies Emerge

Anchorage News, Bear Hunting Magazine

Anchorage has a reputation for being bear tolerant but after three maulings last summer -- including a 15-year-old girl who nearly bled to death when attacked by a grizzly in a city park -- a chorus of outrage is building.

Anchorage is unique among mid-sized American cities. The municipality's 285,000 residents share space with at least 65 brown bears and about 250 black bears. The sprawling municipality is surrounded by wild country. Anchorage is next to Chugach State Park, a half-million acre park that wildlife officials have described as a "bear factory."

Deaths from bear maulings are uncommon in the municipality. In July 1995, a mother and son were killed by a bear defending a moose carcass along McHugh Creek Trail. However, the mauling of Petra Davis, followed by another attack on the same park trail later last summer and the mauling of a young man in Eagle River, have some residents demanding a crackdown on the bears.

Already this spring, there is a feeling of deja vu. Last Friday, a sign went up on one of the city's most popular trails warning people of a black bear sow defending her cubs. Last month, a black bear chased some skiers and treed a man in the same park where two maulings occurred last summer.

"People think, 'Holy cow, we are under assault'," said Rick Sinnott, an area biologist with the Department of Fish and Game overseeing the bear problem.

In a move to target bolder bears before they reach Anchorage, Sinnott said hunting opportunities for brown bear have been increased in the Chugach State Park. Ten permits will be issued. Sinnott hopes no more than three are killed. "We don't really want to reduce the population that much," he said.

Anchorage is not being overrun by bears, Sinnott said. "I think it was kind of an unusual situation last year in part because I think we had a couple of brown bear sows with cubs in places where we probably can't tolerate them," he said.

He points to a 1997 survey that showed most people in Anchorage liked having bears around. But, he said, Anchorage's tolerance could be waning. Another survey is planned for this fall.

In the meantime, Anchorage's bear management policy will remain much the same as in the past, Sinnott said. If a particular bear is dangerous and has hurt someone and is likely to hurt someone again, it will be shot, Sinnott said.

Trash is a main cause of concern for bears coming up towards homes. Last year, the city replaced more than 20 municipal trash containers in municipal parks with bear-resistant cans. This summer, the city plans to replace industrial trash bins with bear-resistant cans in areas where there are restaurants and apartment complexes.

For the first time, people who improperly dispose of their trash will be fined instead of being issued warnings. Fines for a first offense range from $50 to $300, up to $600 for a second offense.

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