Vehicles with doors opened, apparently by brown bears. Photo courtesy of Helen Alten.

The Haines area brown bear hunt closed early on Oct. 18 after bear harvests exceeded targets, wildlife officials announced.

Eight bears have been killed this year, including up to three females. The current management plan calls for no more than seven bears killed per year, with no more than two females. Wildlife officials are also searching for one or two bears which they intend to kill that have been getting into dozens of vehicles around town.

“The population is vulnerable to overharvest so we went ahead and issued this order,” said Carl Koch, the area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Juneau.

Three of the bears were taken during the hunting season, which is divided into spring and fall. One female, one cub, one male, and one bear of unconfirmed sex had been taken by residents in defense of life and property.

While Koch called the taking of additional bears unfortunate, he said it was a better outcome than in 2020, when about fifty area bears were taken, 15 of which were females. Since then, Haines tightened code requirements about loose food and trash, which resulted in a dramatic reduction in non-hunt bear deaths in the ensuing years. Fish and Game also tightened hunt allowances. The current plan allows wildlife officials to deduct excess bears taken one year from the next year’s allowances.

Meanwhile Koch said officials have identified at least one bear responsible for numerous vehicle break ins around town. The bear was seen in security camera footage at Haines School, and appears to be a two or three-year- old male.

Koch said it still hasn’t been tracked down in the act, and said the timing of call-ins about break-ins suggests there might be another bear skilled at opening car doors. Koch said while the decision of whether to leave car doors locked or not was up to individual car owners, the bear appears to be deterred by locked doors.

“Video showed the bear trying all four doors and tailgate and not opening them, then went to the next car,” said Koch. “The bear we’re after has repeatedly been seen going along and opening vehicles that are unlocked and not doors that are locked,” said Koch.