Three bears shot and killed in Sitka neighborhood

Wildlife troopers shot and killed a brown bear sow and her two cubs in a Sitka neighborhood last Thursday, Oct. 20. While it’s not the first report of an aggressive bear near downtown, the three were the first animals destroyed this year for public safety.

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A tranquilized bear and cub. (Alaska Department of Fish & Game photo)
A tranquilized bear and cub. (Alaska Department of Fish & Game photo)

Alaska Wildlife Trooper Kyle Ferguson responded to the bear sighting on Granite Creek Road around 5:30 Thursday evening. Ferguson said, like most of the recent bear sightings in town, the sow was searching for food.

“The bear grabbed a large trash dumpster, one of the large round ones that are commonly used in town, and rolled it down in an embankment near some homes,” Ferguson explained.

That the sow grabbed the entire dumpster, and not just one or two bags of trash, is why Ferguson knew this wouldn’t be a routine case where he could scare the bear away with sirens or rubber bullets.

He said the dumpster provided the sow and her cubs with more food than they could eat in one sitting.

“So she, like bears do, established a food cache there. [The sow] buried parts of it and remained in the area and was very defensive and aggressive towards people.”

Ferguson compared the scenario to the way a bear would act if it were guarding a deer it had killed and cached for later. There was no scaring this bear away from her food source.

So, for the sake of public safety, Ferguson shot and killed the aggressive sow.

The cubs, which he said weighed no more than eighty or ninety pounds apiece, were not acting aggressively. He said they lingered after their mother was shot, not really knowing what to do.

“It’s a sad deal, because all they’ve ever known is mom and they’re going to stay with mom,” Ferguson said.

In a case like this, responding officers have two options. The first is to capture the cubs and send them off to a zoo or a place like Fortress of the Bear, which rescues orphaned cubs in Sitka.

“But in order for that to happen, there needs to be a preexisting request,” Ferguson explained. “There has to be some zoo or other organization on record that says, ‘Hey, we’re looking for some brown bear cubs from Alaska.’”

And, Ferguson said, there wasn’t. So, without any alternative placement options, the decision was ultimately made to kill the two cubs as well.

All three bears are treated the same way a bear killed in defense of life or property would be.

“The bear is skinned, the hide, with claws attached, and the skull are turned over the to the [Alaska] Department of Fish & Game and are property of the state,” Ferguson explained, “and then the meat, here locally, we donate to the [Alaska] Raptor Center.”

Alaska Wildlife Troopers and the Sitka Police Department continue to urge residents to be responsible with their garbage.

“While we cannot tolerate an aggressive brown bear in a residential area,” Ferguson said, “there needs to be a greater level of understanding from people in the community that we live in brown bear country and you need to be responsible with your garbage.”

The dumpster the sow dragged off was secured shut with chains and clips, but even that didn’t deter the bear from prying it open.

Also last Thursday, Alaska Department of Fish & Game received a report from a group of hikers of an aggressive bear on the Mt. Verstovia trail in Sitka. Wildlife Troopers were notified and plan to put up signage at the trailhead.

Emily Russell is the voice of Alaska morning news as Alaska Public Media’s Morning News Host and Producer.

Originally from the Adirondacks in upstate New York, Emily moved to Alaska in 2012. She skied her way through three winters in Fairbanks, earning her Master’s degree in Northern Studies from UAF.

Emily’s career in radio started in Nome in 2015, reporting for KNOM on everything from subsistence whale harvests to housing shortages in Native villages. She then worked for KCAW in Sitka, finally seeing what all the fuss with Southeast, Alaska was all about.

Back on the road system, Emily is looking forward to driving her Subaru around the region to hike, hunt, fish and pick as many berries as possible. When she’s not talking into the mic in the morning, Emily can be found reporting from the peaks above Anchorage to the rivers around Southcentral.

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