Police authorized to kill sow, cubs damaging property
June 18, 2020
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has given the Haines Borough Police Department permission to kill a sow and two cubs after reports of property damage, but other residents say they’re having similar issues with a young male bear.
Fish and Game wildlife biologist Carl Koch came to town this weekend and stayed through Wednesday morning tracking the collared and tagged sow that has been damaging property. Haines Police have recorded dozens of bear reports during the past two weeks.
About a week ago, a bear destroyed Scott Bader’s garage door, and now he has to spend about $3,000 to replace it, Bader said. The bear broke through the door and got into his freezer. He didn’t see which bear caused the damage, but said he’s seen the sow but also a male bear wandering his neighborhood on Skyline.
“There were prints all over the place where he tried to pound the door,” Bader said. “Then he went over to the side of the door and started pushing in on the panel from the edge and ended up pushing one of the panels through. I’m thinking it was that male, that boar.”
He said neighbors Tyler and Lynzee Swinton’s garage was broken into the same night his garage door was destroyed.
Lynzee Swinton said that two weeks ago they saw a sow with two cubs damage the door to their garage. A week later a male bear was trying to break into the same door, the same night Bader’s garage door was destroyed. Tyler Swinton said he’s positive it was a male bear.
“We woke up at 3 a.m. and there was a big male brown bear back on its hind legs,” Lynzee Swinton said. “It was pushing the door in.”
Koch said the sow could be mistaken for a male bear. “This sow is absolutely that big, 100 percent,” Koch said. “Some people just don’t see them on their hind legs very often. I’m not saying they’re wrong. It could have been a different bear.”
Koch said he saw videos and heard reliable descriptions from some residents who identified the tagged sow. “Monday morning, she showed up at a home, got into a cooler and pushed in the door of an unfinished garage and got some trash,” Koch said. “On Tuesday morning, she ripped the side of a garage open.”
Jordan Baumgartener said he’s seen both the sow and cubs and a male on his Fort Seward property. The sow opened the chest freezer on his back porch and took two packages of eulachon, but the male ripped his shed door off its hinges.
“The sow and two cubs didn’t do any damage to my house,” he said. “They’re getting in our stuff. The boar last night is the one that broke stuff.”
Other residents have reported the sow and cubs coming onto porches and taking food from their freezers.
Emily McMahan said the sow and cubs went onto their porch on Skyline, but didn’t do any damage. She said a young male has been coming around the neighborhood during the day and doesn’t spook easily.
“The cops have been here shooting rubber bullets,” McMahan said. “It’s coming in the morning and afternoon. It’s made us pretty uncomfortable to work on the garden or let the kids play outside.”
Sunshine Road resident Lilly Boron said they open their garage door partway in the mornings to let the dog out. Last week, she said her husband Matt heard a disturbance in their garage and later saw the sow and cubs outside their door. When he checked the garage, nothing had been disturbed. Shortly after, they saw a wrapper to one of their roasts in the neighbor’s yard. Upon closer inspection, they saw signs that the bear had opened the freezer.
“It walked right by the dog food. It knew exactly what it wanted. It wanted the freezer,” Lilly Boron said. “It’s a very smart bear. It picked up the single roast and ambled on. It makes me nervous that she is developing her habitat, which is people’s homes.”
Koch said the sow had been attracted to the landfill several years ago when trash was less secure than it is now, and other attractants around town. The bear was collared in 2018 and its location can be tracked. “She’s had enough rewards from people that weren’t securing things that she became food conditioned and now she’s getting more and more bold.”
Koch said if more residents were cited for leaving bear attractants out, it would help the situation.
“I don’t know of anyone (in Haines) that’s been cited, period,” Koch said. “That would help, I think. It would at least encourage some people to get their stuff squared away. If all trash and attractants were secured, it’s very likely this bear would have just been a bear, been able to have more natural behavior.”
Although they tracked the bears over the weekend in an attempt to shoot them, they were unable to get close enough. Koch left town Wednesday morning, and the Haines Police are now authorized to kill the sow and cubs. Killing the cubs is humane, Koch said, because they would be unable to survive without their mother for at least another three years.
Koch said tranquilizing the bears and relocating them likely won’t work because it failed to keep bears from town when they attempted to do that in the 1990s.
“It’s not anything anybody wants to do, it’s just that this bear poses an immediate threat to the community,” police chief Heath Scott said.
He said there will be no additional effort to cite residents for leaving out bear attractants.