Relocating bears doesn’t change people’s behavior

  • Thursday, June 25, 2015 3:52pm
  • Opinion

Earlier this week, it was reported that four of the five black bears that had been relocated to the northern Kenai Peninsula from an Anchorage neighborhood had been killed by state and federal managers.

While it was an unfortunate end for the sow and three of her four cubs, we have to ask, was anyone really surprised? After all, the phrase “a fed bear is a dead bear” has long been a part of the Alaska lexicon.

The bears had been relocated after causing trouble for a second summer in the Government Hill neighborhood in Anchorage. Alaska Department of Fish and Game officials were planning to euthanize the bears, but following public outcry and intervention from Gov. Bill Walker, the bears were instead captured and moved to the peninsula.

However, moving the bears appears to have succeeded only in moving the problem.

According to a report from television station KTUU in Anchorage, the final straw came Sunday when one of the cubs climbed into a van at a campground in Hope while the driver was still in it. The sow and her four cubs had also been getting into garbage around Hope, and were suspected in a raid on a chicken coop on which the electric fencing had been turned off.

In a press release announcing the bears’ relocation, Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten said that moving the bears was “a short-term solution to what the department views as a long-term issue. We need to clean up our neighborhoods and address how we can keep trash and other human-supplied attractants away from bears.”

Cotten said the department was less an effort to give the bears another chance and more to provide Anchorage residents another opportunity to shore up trash and generally become bear aware to prevent similar situations in the future.

As to the bears themselves, Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh told KTUU that black bears are difficult to relocate because they tend to either return to their place of origin, or cause problems in their new location.

So, the question is, did we learn anything? In the Anchorage neighborhood where the bears first got into trouble, they found the same attractants this summer that they were getting into last summer. Had the same public outcry over killing bears been directed toward cleaning up yards, we might be having a different conversation today.

Here on the central Kenai Peninsula, efforts by Fish and Game and local municipal governments to encourage residents to minimize attractants have been steady. But we should all learn something from the Government Hill bears: efforts to relocate wildlife don’t do a whole lot of good when it’s people who need to clean up their act.

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