By Heidi Zemach for SCN -
Seward Police Department officers shot and wounded an aggressive bear outside Spring Creek Correctional Center last week, and accidentally killed another bear they were attempting to haze and drive out of downtown Seward.
Sunday evening, October 6, an officer responded to a call by Spring Creek Correctional Center employees of an older male bear who was acting aggressively, and damaging staff vehicles in the parking lot. The bear, who the staff had referred to as “Clyde,” had been clawing at the back of a truck’s shell, and trying to get into it.
The bear was still in the area when the officer came on the scene, and it did not show fear of human presence, nor did it respond to hazing, said SPD Lieutenant Butch Tiner. The bear kept walking toward the officer who was attempting to scare it away toward the mountains beyond the prison. At that point the officer decided to “euthanize it,” according to Tiner. The officer shot and wounded it, but it ran off into the dense brush toward the mountains, and could not be located that evening. Police returned the next morning and followed its blood trail, but still could not locate the bear.
Although police were told that it was a large, older male, they now suspect that that the bear they shot may have been a female, as they have received reported sightings of three lone cubs in the area, too young to be on their own, Tiner said. They also believe that the bear died of her injuries.
The police department decided not to seek out the cubs and kill them, but it has no resources to trap them, nor the ability to find homes for them. They contacted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife Protection trooper, as they are the ones that would decide what their fate should be, whether it is to leave that up to nature, or take action to dispatch them, trap and relocate them, or possibly find a home for the cubs. Spring Creek employees were warned to keep a look out for cubs in the area.
In the other incident Wednesday, October 9th, a lone two or three-year- old black bear was shot and accidentally killed in the middle of the afternoon by a police officer who was attempting to haze it away from the populated area. The officer shot a firecracker close to the bear from about eight feet away, in the alleyway between the old and new library in downtown Seward. It entered the bear behind its rib cage and went through its diaphragm, clipping its lung in the process before exploding and killing the bear. The bear ran back toward 5th avenue but died on the sidewalk, Tiner said.
The bear was given to a charity that is on the list to take wild meat, such as bears, or moose road-kill. It remains unclear whether or not the firecracker exploded inside the bear.
Police had received and responded to multiple calls about the bear that day, wandering the 200 block of 2nd and 3rd Avenues. None of the calls said that the bear was acting aggressively toward people. Indeed several bears had been photographed by onlookers over the past couple of weeks, eating crab apples and berries from area trees, and one bear in Forest Acres had destroyed property at the Seward Rec Camp.
The police had typically responded to calls by warning people of a bear in the area, and advising them to keep their distance. But the police officer became nervous in this instance when he headed downtown and had made his way from 4th and 5th Avenues, Tiner said.
Having a bear roaming downtown in the later afternoon, when more people are around, raises the threat level, and increases the chance of an encounter, so the police department had to react, and hazing was the right choice, Tiner said.
Rubber bullets and firecrackers do not move at as high velocities as bullets do, but at such close range, and in the area that it hit the bear, the firecracker was lethal, Tiner said. At this point, the police department is looking into options such as training for officers in the use of less lethal hazing techniques. They have been in touch with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to teach such a class to their officers. They’re also looking at obtaining live traps in which to attempt to relocate problem bears. They would probably do something like mark or tag the troublesome bear and give it a second chance, but “euthanize it” if it repeatedly returned, he said.
(Reporter’s note: “euthanize” was the term the police used for shooting and humanely killing a problem bear)