4 bears killed after getting into tents at Anchorage campground abruptly opened to homeless

Bags hanging from trees
As a precaution for bears in the area, some campers at Centennial Park campground suspended some of their belongings in trees. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Four bears have been killed at an Anchorage campground, recently opened to people who are homeless, after the bears entered tents to get to food and other items, including hygiene products and trash.

Anchorage police reported the problem bears at Centennial Campground — a sow black bear with two cubs and a separate male black bear — and two state biologists killed them Tuesday, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

In late June, the administration of Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson abruptly canceled pre-existing reservations at Centennial Campground and opened it to city residents who’d been living outside, including some who’d been staying at a camp the city cleared out. The city also bused dozens of people to the campground last week when it closed the shelter at Sullivan Arena.

Within days of the first people arriving, there were reports of bears getting into tents at the campground, which is northeast of Anchorage’s downtown core and sits adjacent to large areas of wooded military and state park land.

Centennial Campground has had human-bear conflicts in the past, said Cyndi Wardlow, a Fish and Game regional supervisor.

“So we always expect that there will be bears potentially going through there,” she said.

A wagon with a painted cardboard sign that says "Lost $ everything need cash" and two tents in the background
Tents at Centennial Campground last week, soon after the area was repurposed into a place for people who are homeless to camp legally and for free. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

Fish and Game got little warning about the plan to allow homeless residents to camp at Centennial and found out at the same time as the general public, Wardlow said.

“It was a surprise for us at the agency,” she said. “We try to work closely with the municipality and with APD, especially if there’s a situation that could create a public safety concern, and we’re looking for ways to help them come up with solutions any way we can to keep people safe.”

The city has purchased and distributed bear-resistant food containers to the campers at Centennial, and staff are checking each campsite on an hourly basis to make sure food isn’t left out, said Mike Braniff, the city’s Parks and Trails General Safety Foreman, who’s been appointed to lead the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Whether campers use the containers or keep food in their tents is a compliance issue, Braniff said.

“We’re not searching the tents,” he said. “We ask for their cooperation. We ask them to comply. Not everybody will, I suppose.”

Braniff estimated there were more than 200 people camping at Centennial recently.

In a statement, Bronson spokesman Corey Allen Young said the campground is an option for people to use as high fire danger persists in the city. In addition to bear-resistant storage containers and regular clean-ups, he said, the city is talking to campers about bear safety.

“The priority will always be to protect humans and mitigate risks to bears which includes the efforts I mentioned,” he said. “The Administration looks forward to collaboratively working with the Assembly to navigate this high fire danger period in the safest way possible for our residents and the houseless citizens in our community.”

He said that includes exploring alternate locations and potential code changes.

a portrait of a man outside

Casey Grove is host of Alaska News Nightly, a general assignment reporter and an editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach him atcgrove@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Caseyhere

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