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By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
Five bears have been killed this year in what Alaska Department of Fish and Game Ketchikan Area Wildlife Management Biologist Boyd Porter is calling a “15-year high-incident rate for bears clashing with people in the Ketchikan area.”
Porter told the Daily News that this year has seen an enormous spike in black bears coming into contact with people around Ketchikan and the borough. He placed much of the blame on environmental conditions and on people who leave their trash unsecured.
“They’ve exhausted other resources and they’ve come into town looking for opportunities and they found lots of opportunities in town and in the borough, around people,” Porter said. “There was a late berry crop, very sporadic, less berries available, fish were late and unavailable to them and then they come in looking for other opportunities and find unsecured garbage.”
Because of these increased interactions, tougher, and at times lethal, actions have been taken in order to control the creatures.
“There’s been five bears killed in the borough and the City,” Porter said. “Several hit on the roads, four or five were killed by troopers, police and Fish and Game. “
Ketchikan Police Chief Joe White confirmed that the KPD had killed one of those five bears. He said calls about bears coming into town have been unusually steady this year.
“I’d say at least two or three calls a day probably,” White said. “It’s hard to actually shoot and kill bears in neighborhoods because (the neighborhoods) are so highly and densely populated, so we do use bean-bag rounds at times to scare them away.”
Both Porter and White said the most important thing that residents can do is to secure their trash, because that is what is drawing the bears into areas with people.
“Make an extra effort to secure your garbage,” Porter emphasized. “And that means not just a bungee cord over the garbage can, but (have the can) secured either with a ratchet strap or in a contained area that the bears do not have access to.”
Porter added that they have had to train people on when to defend themselves because some bears have gotten so bold they are tearing into sheds to get to the garbage.
“If bears continue to tear into sheds where (residents) have now put the garbage, then we educate them on what the defense of life or property regulations are,” Porter said. “And that would be killing a bear; at what point can you kill a bear.”
Porter also noted that livestock is also a concern. He said an electric fence type system is the best defense.
“Chicken coops, chickens, ducks — any kind of livestock — should have an electric fence associated with it,” Porter said. “That would be a permanent fix to keep bears out of your yard and out of your livestock.”
Chief White also emphasized the importance of securing trash and livestock. He noted that there are ordinances where people can be cited for not securing their trash correctly.
“Usually we’ll give a warning or two to residents and then they can get citations if they don’t take care of their trash in a proper manor,” White said. "It’s tough though, to tell you the truth, because it’s really hard to bear-proof those trashcans.”
This year has seen its share of increased bear encounters throughout Southeast Alaska. KTOO reported that a wildlife trooper shot and killed a brown bear in Juneau on Monday. The bear had been in a chicken coop and charged the trooper, forcing him to fire.
The Associated Press also reported Tuesday that two bears had been captured and relocated in Petersburg during the past couple months, an unusual amount of interaction for such a small community.
And it appears as though that same pattern is playing out here in Ketchikan.
“This year it seems like yeah, we’ve had a lot of bear calls,” White said. “They get more and more comfortable in the neighborhoods.”
“The last thing we want is a bear and person encounter, because the person is going to lose,” White emphasized.