By Joseph Robertia
Despite the mild winter and warm, dry spring, area bears have been slow to show themselves following their long slumber.
“It’s been pretty quiet. Just a few reports here and there, so some are out, but it’d be a stretch to say they’re all out,” said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
As the bears do become active, they’ll begin to forage for food, according to Selinger.
“They’ll mill about for winter-killed moose and eat vegetation, and unfortunately some of the ones that have been around for a few years know to look where humans live to find food,” he said.
This proved true for Kasilof resident Danielle Marey, who recently lost some livestock to what she believes could only have been a bear. On March 31, she took her kids to school and spent the day in town.
“When I got back home I noticed the 10-by-5 shelter we had built for our pigs had been ripped down,” she said.
The pigs were small, 40-pounders Marey had recently purchased from Kenai Feed and Supply to raise for butchering in fall.
“They came in a little earlier this year than usual, so we didn’t have an electric fence up yet, but we were housing them in a pen we made out of 4-foot-tall panels, and that was inside my garden, which has an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence completely surrounding it, except for one small gap,” she said.
Whatever creature had gotten to her pigs was apparently smart enough to find the break, and was large enough to climb or jump over the panel fence.
“The ground was frozen so there were no tracks, but all of the wounds to the pigs were on their backs, near the neck, and looked like the type of injuries claws would make. And whatever did it had to be strong enough to rip the shelter apart,” she said.
Marey believes the bear was a young one. It did a lot of damage, killed two pigs and left the third so injured its fate is still in limbo, but it didn’t eat any of the pigs it killed or take them with it.
Selinger said that 3- to 4-year old bears, those which are often on their own for the first time after spending their first few years with their mother, can find trouble. But sometimes they’re on the losing end. The spring brown bear permit hunt began Jan. 1, and the first and only bear harvested so far was in this age demographic. It was a subadult male taken north of Sterling on March 14, Selinger said.
Following nearly a decade of no hunting of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula, hunting opportunity resumed in 2012. In 2013, 70 bears died from human-caused mortalities, such as hunting, motor vehicle collisions, defense-of-life-or-property shootings or Fish and Game euthanasia. In 2014, there were 69 human-caused mortalities of brown bears.
At a meeting in Anchorage in March, the Alaska Board of Game decided to update the management plan for brown bears. Last year, Fish and Game’s directive was that not more than 17 females older than 1 year, or 70 total bears, could die from human-caused mortalities. It was changed for 2015 to not exceed eight to 12 females older than 1 year, or 50 to 60 bears total.
“So that’s the plan we’ll be working off of,” Selinger said.
With more bears being harvested, including many around human settlements or access points, there have been fewer bear-related problems being called in to Fish and Game, Selinger said. And he was quick to point out that, in recent years, following an aggressive, “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear” educational campaign, more people are reducing attractants — and, as a result, conflicts with bears.
“People are making the effort to minimize attractants by doing things like using bear-resistant garbage containers, cleaning up birdseed and barbecue grills and having electric fences around livestock,” he said.
Despite this success, Selinger said that peninsula residents shouldn’t get lackadaisical with anything that could draw in a bear.
“Not seeing any bears, or not having as many problems for a few years, this doesn’t mean it’s time to be less vigilant,” he said. “Because if we do, the problems will start all over again.”