Two bears have been killed on Mitkof Island for hanging around people’s homes and businesses. One was a brown bear killed by a resident and another was a black bear killed by police. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:
Petersburg isn’t accustomed to a lot of brown bear sightings the way some other Southeast Alaska communities are. But this fall residents have been posting regular sightings on social media.
One bear in particular has been sighted around Papkes subdivision about 10 miles south of Petersburg.
Cody Litster is the Wildlife Enforcement Officer for the Petersburg area. He says it’s likely a young male who recently got kicked out by his mom.
Litster has received a lot of calls about bears this fall but he says he hasn’t taken any action.
“So far to this point, no bears have broken any laws,” Litster said.
He says that kind of tongue-in-cheek. But his point is that he hasn’t seen any bears doing anything besides regular bear foraging. That includes the one around Papkes.
“That brown bear hasn’t been aggressive towards anyone, hasn’t even tipped over a garbage can,” Litster said. “Today was garbage day out in that neck of the woods and no ones’ reported any problems. He seems to be eating apples along the beach and doing what bears do, which just happens to be in people’s yards.”
But not everyone would agree that bears are innocent. Resident, Kevin Hess, killed a male brown bear near his neighbor’s house about nine miles south of town.
The case is currently under investigation by the state.
Trooper Litster believes that brown bears are nothing new on the island.
“Historically, over the years I’ve seen a hand full of bears on the island—brown bears on the island—everything from big boars to sows with cubs,” Lister said. “I think they’ve always been here but with Facebook and more roads they’re a little more prevalent and a little more talked about.”
Litster says there are precautions that residents can take for brown bears and they are the same safety measures people should take for black bears.
“Make sure that everything is secured, make sure their pets are in. Chicken coops are going to be a big attractant so, we’re recommendation electric fences for chicken coops. The stuff that chicken’s use to produce egg shells and produce a lot of eggs is like ice cream to bears,” Litster said. “Haven’t had a problem with that with this brown bear but it’s better to proactive. So, keep things contained and he’ll move along and if someone is really concerned about it we’re recommending fireworks or pots and pans and try to push him away. Let him know he’s not welcome in the neighborhood.”
This fall, there is a new brown bear hunt on Mitkof Island but hunters need to be a quarter mile away from the Mitkof Highway to harvest a bear legally. They also can’t take a sow with cubs.
“If he’s inside a quarter mile of the highway, he can’t legally be harvested,” Litster said. “So, I hope cooler heads prevail and in a week or so this hyperphagia that they’re going through will go away and he’ll go den up and we shouldn’t have a problem.
Hyperphagia is when bears are trying to maximize their intake of calories before hibernation. Litster says during this time the bears’ eating and food drive is greatly increased.
Petersburg Police Chief James Kerr agrees that bears will eventually move on if people keep their attractants secured. But sometimes it’s not soon enough. Police officers killed a black bear on October 2nd.
“They’ve been coming in at night and leaving but we had one that was coming in and staying in town,” Kerr said.
That black bear was around the Sandy Beach Road area. Kerr says bears usually come around town in the fall looking for food. But he thinks there have been a few more than usually this year. He says they’re keeping tabs on the black bear sightings and might take further action.
“If people keep their trash cleaned up and if they’re not getting that food source then they will move on,” Kerr said, “but there’s been one other one that’s been hanging around on people’s porches and if that one doesn’t move on here soon then we’ll have to take care of that one as well.”
Kerr says he doesn’t know why there might be more bear activity around town this year but he encourages everyone to take care of their garbage.