Protect our ursine neighbors heading into summer

June 19th, 2020


Bears on the Chilkoot River by Bob Deck

Protect our ursine neighbors heading into summer

As we approach the Summer Solstice, bears are moving about, seeking out food sources wherever they go. For females with cubs, this is a critical time–moms with new cubs are teaching their young the ropes, still fairly fresh from the den. Nursing females have a lot of responsibility–protect their cubs from other bears, teach them how to be bears, and find enough food to sustain themselves while also producing milk to feed their young. Moms with older cubs are teaching their young how to get their own food, while trying to keep bigger, bolder, more curious young bears safe! It’s a lot of pressure being a bear mom! Meanwhile, females without young are working hard to put on enough weight to sustain pregnancies when they return to the den this fall. Even male bears are under a lot of pressure to get the calories they need in a few short months to get them through next winter! The search for food never stops.

Bears are so adaptable and opportunistic that they will seek out food in new places, or keep coming back to old food sources from years ago, just to check in case they find a meal there again. With their incredible sense of smell and their need for calories, bears often explore our neighborhoods and cabins, looking for an easy meal. Maybe that’s a backyard chicken or a compost heap. Maybe it’s a garbage can or a cherry tree. Or, maybe they’re just poking around out of curiosity, sniffing the yard and seeing what can be found. In any case, when bears get too comfortable around people and our homes, it often means trouble for the bears.

Here in Haines, Alaska, where our northern office is, our community has been enjoying the antics of a beautiful female brown (coastal grizzly) and her tiny new cubs. Last weekend, they made an appearance at the farmstand while I was picking up lettuce and turnips. Mom looked nervous, while the tiny cubs wrestled and frolicked, and she hustled them across a grassy field to cover. She didn’t bother with the farmstand, the crowd of people, or the stray dog who promptly turned tail and headed home (thankfully). But, since then, I’ve heard reports of her trying to get into sheds and garages. Fish and Game has been tracking her movements for a few years now, after trapping her at the dump and fitting her with a tracking collar in 2018, so we know her history. She’s broken into freezers and garages, and even tried to open a door to someone’s home, while people were inside. Tragically, Fish and Game and the local police department have determined they will have to euthanize the bears. This is NOT something they want to do. The state biologist and the police chief are actively working to prevent this kind of incident, but with limited resources and with attractants tempting these bears in every neighborhood, there are not many options. Relocating bears to another location rarely works–in most cases, the bears make it back home in a matter of days, no matter how far away they’re dropped off. Bear cubs are difficult to place in captive facilities, because it takes so much to keep a captive bear enriched and mentally healthy. Even when they can be placed, we’ve lost that genetic contribution from the wild population.

The saddest part of this story is that these deaths are easily preventable. All it takes is a little time walking around outside your home to find anything with an odor, and put it away inside a secure building or bear resistant container. Compost heaps, chicken coops, gardens and fruit trees can be secured with electric fences. Or pick the all the fruit before it attracts bears. It’s that easy. Then, talk to your neighbors about the importance of keeping a bear safe neighborhood. A little thought and action makes the world safer for both people and bears!

You can read about this bear family at the KHNS website by clicking here.

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