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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, September 29, 2018 1:00 am

Amid invasion, Alaskans bearing up

If rabbits, deer or other wildlife posed a problem for your backyard garden this season – take heart. At least the problem wasn't bears. For Alaska residents, this year produced a “perfect storm” of bear trouble.

The Anchorage Daily News reported this week that black bears in the state are responsible for shutting down a Juneau arboretum and a fish-cleaning facility in Cordova, Alaska, and their prevalence has led to an unusually high number of bear kills in Anchorage.

“This year by far is the craziest year for bears I've ever seen,” said Sgt. Robin Morrisett, an Alaska wildlife trooper with about 10 years' experience.

Experts are blaming poor berry crops and sparse salmon runs for the increased bear sightings in populated areas. The Jensen-Olson Arboretum in Juneau has been closed since Labor Day because bears have overtaken the preserve to climb trees and feed on berries.

Morrisett said he's had to kill four bears this year, including one that swam across a harbor to invade salmon boats. Residents are permitted to kill bears in defense of life and property. Forty-one kills had been recorded in Anchorage as of earlier this week. Bears are not an endangered species in Alaska. 

Officials in Anchorage reported 640 calls reporting bear encounters, eclipsing the 492 calls received last year.

Alaskan officials are pursuing new policies for trash management. Chicken coops without bear-halting electric fences are another target.

“We have a perfect storm – a bumper crop of young animals, what appears to be (food) resource failure, and then highly accessible trash,” said Charlotte Westing, a biologist in Cordova.