Animal Conservation

4 bears killed in East Anchorage campground city repurposed for homeless residents

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game shot and killed four black bears this week at Centennial Campground, an East Anchorage campground where Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration has ordered homeless people to stay there. go as he closed Sullivan Arena for use as a mass shelter last week.

In a written statement Wednesday, Fish and Game said the bears it killed on Tuesday – a sow and two cubs, and another adult male bear – “entered tents to access food and other attractants, including personal hygiene items and garbage”.

“Bears entering tents or other structures pose a risk to human safety,” Fish and Game said in the statement. “A bear deemed a threat to public safety or involved in an attack may be killed by the Department.”

The Bronson administration began hastily ordering homeless people to the city-run Centennial Campground in late June, without notice to service providers, nearby residents and other city officials, just days before closing the Sullivan Arena as a mass homeless shelter in June. 30. More than 150 people had been camping there since last week, according to the head of the city’s parks and recreation department. Parks and Recreation manages the campground.

People the city bussed to the campground from Sullivan Arena and other encampments, and others who arrived there, initially had little access to safe food storage for the Bears. A few days after the city’s decision to repurpose the campground, bears were observed on the site, rummaging through people’s belongings. The city then provided bear-proof canisters to people staying there.

Fish and Game officials had previously warned that the wilderness areas near the campsite, near Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson and Chugach State Park, were subject to heavy bear traffic. In its statement Wednesday, Fish and Game called it “vast areas of bear habitat.” Neighborhoods near the park regularly see conflicts between humans and bears during the summer, especially bears that end up in garbage.

Fish and Game Anchorage-area biologist Dave Battle in the statement called killing bears “a very temporary solution,” adding that “there will always be more bears in this vicinity.”

“Centennial Campground staff are doing their best to manage the campground and minimize attractants, but there are still plenty of tents with food,” Battle said. “Until that changes, more bears are going to come into the campsite and into tents.”

This creates a dangerous situation both for people currently staying there and for those who will stay there in the future, Battle said.

Cynthia Wardlow, regional supervisor for the state’s Division of Wildlife Conservation for Southcentral Alaska, said the state has not confirmed anyone staying at Centennial Campground has been injured by a bear. She encouraged people to report bear encounters directly to Fish and Game.

Wildlife officials use 12-gauge shotguns to shoot bears, Wardlow said. Sometimes the state is able to avoid killing cubs, often by placing them out of state, but they were unable to do so in this case, she said. “Once we run out of placement options, we have to euthanize these animals,” Wardlow said.

While state wildlife officials worked with the Municipality of Anchorage and the Centennial Campground to get rid of bear attractants there for years, the city had not informed the advance state wildlife officials of the evolving situation at the campground, Wardlow said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the municipality has now provided 60 bear-proof food storage containers, 20 bear-proof 32-gallon containers “and made hourly cleaning efforts to mitigate litter and food.”

“We also continue to inspect camps and educate campers on bear safety practices,” spokesperson Corey Allen Young said. “The priority will always be to protect humans and mitigate risk to bears”

When asked if the city is open to liability issues at the East Anchorage campground, Young replied, “No. Just like in public camps across Alaska and in Anchorage, there are hereditary risks to being outdoors.

Daily News reporter Zachariah Hughes contributed to this report.

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