Number of human-bear conflicts growing across Alaska

Poor berry crops and struggling salmon could be contributing to what wildlife experts are calling one of the busiest years of bear encounters they have seen.

'We are just getting hammered with bears,' says Alaska wildlife trooper Sgt. Robin Morrisett

In this April 12, 2015, photo, a black bear cub climbs down a tree near Government Hill in Anchorage, Alaska. Biologist say a rise in the number of young black bears in Alaska may be leading to more conflicts with people. (Bill Roth/Alaska Dispatch News via Associated Press)

Wildlife experts are calling this summer one of the busiest years of bear encounters they have seen.

Biologists believe that poor berry crops and struggling salmon are motivating the hungry bears to wander away from the woods and go into towns, the Anchorage Daily News reported. 

Recent incidents include a black bear taking over the Juneau arboretum and another bruin that shut down a fish-cleaning facility.

A rise in the numbers of young black bears may also be contributing to the growing total of human-bear conflicts, biologists said. Humans also add to the problem by failing to secure trash or having chicken coops without bear-halting electric fences.

'A perfect storm'

"We have a perfect storm — a bumper crop of young animals, what appears to be [food] resource failure, and then highly accessible trash," said Charlotte Westing, area management biologist in Cordova.

Sgt. Robin Morrisett, an Alaska wildlife trooper in Cordova, where the fish-cleaning station is located, is handing out $310 tickets to people who do not properly protect their trash.

A black bear and cub share a spot in tall grass off a road within Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, on Aug. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

Community leaders, including some in Anchorage, are considering pursuing new rules requiring better trash management given the increased potential for confrontations.

He acknowledges, however, that sometimes people are not at fault.

Goal to avoid killing bears

Morrisett recalled one incident where a black bear shredded wooden barriers to get to the garbage cans that were inside. Bears can also break into commercial dumpsters that have protective plastic panels, he said.

"We are just getting hammered with bears and DLPs," Morrisett​ said, referring to bear kills made by people under defence of life and property.

Morrisett has had to kill about four bears this year, including one black bear that got on salmon boats. He said he wants to avoid killing any bears, if possible.

"He's a critter, one of God's creatures," Morrisett said. "We just don't need to kill 'em all."