What Alaska is really worried about: Bears in Anchorage

A day after the Alaska Botanical Garden announced a two-week closure because a grizzly bear had moved next door to the property, a committee of the Anchorage Assembly convened a meeting to discuss what to do about bears in Alaska's largest city.

The meeting comes at the end of a summer that saw two people mauled by grizzly bears in the Anchorage Bowl and another injured by a grizzly not far from downtown Eagle River.

Still, area wildlife biologist Rick Sinnott of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told a trio of assembly members that the perceived danger of bears far exceeds the reality of the risk. Though mountain biker Petra Davis was seriously injured by a bear this summer, Sinnott noted that far more bikers were struck and injured by automobiles.

"The risk of being attacked by any animal (in Anchorage) is extremely rare," Sinnott said, "(and) the only way to reduce the risk to zero is to kill all the bears."

Anchorage residents polled on that subject in the past have shown no stomach for declaring war on local bears. In fact, Sinnott said, most people expressed exactly the opposite sentiment -- they liked having bears around.

The last time people were surveyed, however, was 12 years ago, and much has changed since then.

"I grew up fishing in Chester Creek and Campbell Creek, and I never saw a bear," said Eric Reingold, now an Eagle River resident and one of maybe three dozen people who came to the meeting. He had no doubt Anchorage is home to more bears now than a couple of decades ago.

"I think the problem is pretty clear. There are too many bears in Anchorage."

He did not blame the bears. The animals, he said, are attracted here by booming moose populations and good runs of salmon, partially due to stocking efforts on the part of Fish and Game. Reingold thought the city should think about doing something about those attractants.

But, he added, "my vote is for a management plan that would significantly reduce the number of bears in the Anchorage area."

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