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(DEADHORSE) — A 10-year-old female grizzly was killed in Deadhorse Thursday evening and her two cubs of the year captured after their attraction to human-provided foods led them to break into kitchens and food-storage areas.
Long monitored as a research animal by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the female known as “Bear 147” had spent her life in and around the Prudhoe Bay oilfield and Deadhorse, an adjacent industry support enclave. The North Slope Borough provides bear-proof garbage bins specifically for food waste; however, some in Deadhorse continue to dispose of food scraps in open waste bins. This led to the bears becoming conditioned to human-provided foods and ultimately to their necessary removal by the department.
“The only way to prevent incidents like this is for people in the Deadhorse area to stop placing food waste in unsecured bins,” said Dick Shideler, a state wildlife biologist who has studied oilfield bears for more than 20 years. “If not, grizzly bears will continue to be attracted to the area and more lethal removals may be required.”
The lethal removal of Bear 147 and capture of the cubs is the first such case in the Deadhorse area since 2001-2002. Seven bears were killed that year in defense of life or property or preemptively by officials. Translocation of the family group was not an option because North Slope bears range widely and would either return to Deadhorse or seek out a similar situation elsewhere, creating problems wherever they were moved.
The department’s criteria for bear removal include animals that (a) show a pattern of aggressive behavior toward people, or (b) bears that break into inhabited buildings. Bear 147 recently began approaching areas when people were present and attempts to haze the animal had grown increasingly unsuccessful. The bear had also learned how to open doors and had broken into kitchens and food storage areas, creating an unacceptable risk to human safety.
BP and Alaska Clean Seas were instrumental in providing department staff logistical and equipment support to remove the bears. Plans call for the cubs to be flown to an accredited zoo in Oakland, Calif. The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage is providing vital assistance in keeping the cubs healthy during their travel.
The department is reaching out to the Deadhorse support industry and to other agencies to develop solutions to the garbage management/bear attractant problem.