KODIAK — The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is considering taking lethal action against nuisance bears if they don’t go into hibernation soon, following a rash of incidents over the last several weeks.
Kodiak City Manager Mike Tvenge delivered the news at a Thursday Kodiak City Council meeting.
“Fish and Game with the support of Kodiak Police Department are likely going to kill these bears if they quickly don’t go into hibernation,” Tvenge said. “Until then, residents are urged to use caution after dark and keep trash in an area not easily accessible to bears.”
Tvenge added there are two problem bears who have been a primary concern.
“Kodiak Police Department is working closely with Alaska Department of Fish and Game to deter the bears from getting into the (trash) roll carts, but those efforts have had short-lasting effects,” Tvenge said during his manager’s report. “The bears are now becoming used to the non-lethal bullets and pepper shots.”
Over the past several weeks, local law enforcement and ADF&G have responded to calls about bears getting into trash in town. In one incident, a bear broke into someone’s garage on Selief Lane on Oct. 30 because it was attracted to the fish smell inside.
KPD Lt. Francis de la Fuente confirmed Monday that KPD would provide back up to ADF&G efforts. Kodiak police officers responded to four calls alone Monday night. He added that ADF&G staff have accompanied KPD on some patrols.
Residents voiced their concern about the bear problem at a Nov. 1 Kodiak Island Borough Assembly meeting. Some blamed the trash roll bins as the main source of attracting the bears.
Assembly members also expressed their concerns on the topic, though some said they did not believe the trash roll bins to be the primary reason for the bears’ presence.
“They (ADF&G) are now assisting us on some nights for the big bear at the Selief area,” de la Fuente said. “KPD officers are equipped and ready to put a bear down if it is to save a life. All these are dependent if it is safe to shoot.”
He noted that it’s not a simple matter to point and shoot.
“Killing a bear is not as easy (as in the wilderness) especially in a residential area,” de la Fuente said. “If ADF&G is out to dispatch the bear, KPD will act as their back-up.”
Nate Svoboda, ADF&G’s Kodiak area wildlife biologist, said his agency commonly determines which bears need to be killed and when.
“However, ADF&G typically does not make these decisions without first discussing the issue and coordinating with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers and/or the appropriate agencies involved (e.g., Kodiak Police Dept, USCG Military Police,” Svoboda said by email Tuesday. “Making the decision to dispatch a bear is not something ADF&G often endorses, as this does little to curb the fundamental problem of bears getting into easily accessible and unprotected trash (e.g. roll carts, dumpsters).”
Svoboda added there are a few reasons why non-lethal rounds appear to be less effective on bears.
“First, the bears may appear to be less impacted by non-lethal rounds because their movements are slower and more lethargic as there metabolism is significantly slower this time of year,” Svoboda said. “A bear shot with a non-lethal round might not run off as fast or appear to be as impacted by a non-lethal round simply because their bodies are moving and reacting slower due to physiological programming.”
A second reason could be because a bear keeps coming back into town even though it was shot with a non-lethal round.
“However, if one stops to think about bear behavior and physiological drivers, it is easy to see why this might be,” Svoboda said. “Bears are searching high and low this time of year to put on as much weight as possible before the winter. If a bear, driven by an innate urge to eat, gets a ‘free meal’ in the form of trash with little to no effort for an extended period of time, say 10 days, and then on day 11 gets hit with a non-lethal round perhaps it is ‘worth it’ to take the risk for the benefit of a free meal.”
A number of factors are considered when deciding whether to kill a bear, he said.
Those factors include:
— What is the core problem attracting the bear (i.e. trash, game, attractants, human-induced or natural)?
— Can the core problem be addressed by other means?
— What is the frequency of a particular bear causing problems, how serious are the problems (getting into roll cart versus killing pets or livestock)?
— Has aversive conditioning been implemented and was it effective?
— How feasible is it to dispatch a bear (i.e. location, time of day, safety considerations)?
“ADFG will typically attempt to work with partnering agencies, homeowners, local government, etc. first to try to address the core issue (often human induced) before lethal methods are employed,” Svoboda said.
Relocating a nuisance bear isn’t something ADF&G does, according to Svoboda.
“This can be very difficult, time-consuming, resource intense and expensive, and typically does little to solve the core problem,” Svoboda said. “In addition, relocating bears to other regions can disrupt the natural system in the area the bear gets relocated. Lastly, relocated bears very often make their way back to their original location (i.e. home-range) in a relatively short amount of time.”