Sitka bears still awake looking for trash

All of the bears at the Fortress of the Bear were orphaned as cubs, and would otherwise have been euthanized. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz, KCAW - Sitka)
All of the bears at the Fortress of the Bear were orphaned as cubs, and would otherwise have been euthanized. (Photo by Rachel Waldholz, KCAW – Sitka)

Bears continue to wander through neighborhoods and knock over trash cans near downtown Sitka. That’s despite fresh snow, temperatures dropping below freezing, and now the use of rubber bullets. Multiple calls to the police came in Sunday evening reporting a bear in the Indian River neighborhood.

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One call came at 10:45 pm from Andrew P Hope St. requesting an escort to a visitor’s car. After helping the woman safely to her vehicle, the responding officer located the bear nearby and shot at it with rubber bullets. Lance Ewers is a Lieutenant with the Sitka Police Department.

“This officer managed to hit the bear twice with the rubber shotgun slugs and the bear wasn’t even fazed,” Ewers explained. “He just kept doing his thing.”

Ewers said it’s disturbing how desensitized (to human interaction) the bear was. With the sun setting earlier each day, Ewers urged residents in the Indian River drainage area and around Totem Park to remain cautious, especially after dark.

“Please stay bear aware. Please know that bears do operate at night very effectively, they can see a lot better than we can see,” Ewers said. “So be bear aware and be vigilant and hopefully this bear will go to sleep and it won’t be a problem.”

Steve Bethune is a wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Sitka. He said bears are usually in their dens by now, but one that’s active so late in the season is not unheard of.

“You can see a bear any time of year, so just because it’s cold and snowy, don’t get complacent with your trash handling,” Bethune said.

It’s that complacency, Bethune said, that makes bears more comfortable rifling through people’s trash. She said the bear shot at with rubber bullets near Indian River probably wasn’t a first-time offender.

“These bears have probably been hit multiple times by rubber bullets and have learned by now that rubber bullets don’t necessarily mean a negative consequence,” Bethune said.

There were negative consequences for a sow and her two cubs in October. After trying to bury a dumpster, essentially creating a food cache, Sitka police and Wildlife Troopers agreed to shoot and kill all three bears.

If the bear near Indian River continues coming back to the neighborhood, it will likely suffer the same consequences, because according to Bethune, “a fed bear is a dead bear.”

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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