As Sitka’s deadliest bear season in recent memory draws to a close, the Department of Fisheries and Game is stepping up awareness to try to prevent a repeat of 2021, when 14 brown bears were killed in the community. .
Last week, ADF & G biologist Steve Bethune gave an hour-long presentation on how Sitkans can live with bears.
Steve Bethune is trained in biology. He thought that meant spending a lot of time outdoors with the wildlife. There are quite a few of them, but he also spends a lot of time on a computer and on the phone, talking to worried humans.
“I face some really extreme attitudes about bears here in town,” he said. “There’s a ‘kill them all’ kind of crowd. And there’s the “they were here first in the crowd”. And I try to bring everyone more to where I live – more to the center. I can’t kill them. Even if I decided it was the right thing to do, it would be impossible, right? It’s just not available.
Bethune spoke to an audience in person and online in Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall. Just as he can’t kill every bear that comes into town, Bethune has said he has to kill some because they pose a legitimate threat to public safety.
He doesn’t use the term “problem bears” because he thinks bears aren’t the problem.
“Because it’s only bears that are bears,” Bethune said. “In fact, it’s the people who are the problem. And the bears are using the intelligence they were created with and all of their resources, and they have to do their best with whatever they can just to survive.
Full Presentation: Living with Sitka Brown Bears
Bethune said bears come into contact with humans because we provide them with an unlimited supply of high-calorie foods. A domestic chicken contains about as many calories as a salmon. A fatty pizza box is also high in calories. Even with 14 bears removed so far this year, he said “the calls keep coming”. The exact number of bears in Sitka remains the “million dollar question”, as their sense of smell is legendary – 10 times better than that of a bloodhound, 2,500 times better than ours – and they are extremely mobile. Today’s Sitka bear may have been a long way from yesterday.
“Traveling long distances for these bears is really, really common – up to 50 miles a day is not unheard of,” Bethune said. “And we know from the data from the radio collars that they are excellent swimmers. Even here in town, you know, the bears use all the little islands and then there’s Middle Island, Kasiana Island, Apple Island. We had a bear on Japonski Island, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t cross the bridge.
This mobility is the reason why bear movement is not feasible. Most of the complaints Bethune receives relate to her decision to kill a bear rather than trap it, dart it, and move it to a distant island. Short answer: it doesn’t work.
“Bears have a tremendous kickback instinct,” he said. “And again and again, our radio collar data shows these bears cover huge distances and large bodies of water to return to where they were removed.”
Bethune said a bear that does not return to its home range will likely be injured. He likened it to a non-urban like him being dropped off in Times Square without any preparation.
While this has been the worst year of urban bear kills in Sitka in the past 30 years, Bethune believes an answer has emerged recently that can help tremendously: cheap electric fence kits. He said the department has purchased several for less than $ 300 that can be loaned to residents while they work on permanent solutions at their homes.
Bethune told the audience, a quote from a fellow biologist, that “What most people know about bears has more to do with the nature of bear stories than with the nature of bears. He added that with bears, “we often see what we believe.”
He said the only effective way to take the bears out of Sitka was to eliminate the reason they come here.
“It’s the unsecured waste that’s the problem,” Bethune said. “When I remove a bear, it treats a symptom and does not treat the root cause”
As for when the bears will finally head to their dens for the winter and allow the Sitkans to have some peace – not to mention their national park trails – Bethune said there was no date. precise. Some sows with cubs can nest in October. For the other bears, he said, “Thanksgiving is kind of a general norm. “