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4 bears killed at East Anchorage campground that repurposed town for homeless residents

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The Alaska Department of Fish and Game this week shot dead four black bears at Centennial Campground, an East Anchorage campground where the administration of Mayor Dave Bronson ordered unprotected people to go when it closed the Sullivan Arena for use as a mass shelter last week. .

In a written statement Wednesday, Fish and Game said the boars it killed Tuesday — a sow and two cubs, and another adult male boar — “entered tents to access food and other attractants, including personal hygiene items and waste.”

“Bears entering tents or other structures pose a risk to human safety,” Fish and Game said in the statement. “A bear deemed a threat to public safety or involved in an attack may be killed by the ministry.”

The Bronson administration began hastily sending homeless people to the city-run Centennial Campground in late June, with little notice to service providers, local residents and other city officials, just days before it closed the Sullivan Arena as a mass shelter for homeless as of June 30. More than 150 people camped last week, according to the city’s head of Parks and Recreation. Parks and Recreation manages the campground.

People who took buses to the campground from the Sullivan Arena and other encampments, and others who arrived there, initially had little access to food stores that were safe from bears. Within days of the city’s decision to repurpose the site, bears were sighted on the spot rummaging through people’s belongings. The city later provided bear-proof jerry cans to people staying there.

Fish and Game officials had already warned that the wilderness areas near the campground, near Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson and Chugach State Park, are heavily traded by bears. In Wednesday’s statement, Fish and Game called it “extensive areas of bear habitat.” Neighborhoods near the park regularly see bear-human conflicts in the summer, especially bears that end up in the trash.

Fish and Game’s Anchorage-area biologist Dave Battle called the killing of bears “a very temporary solution,” adding that “there will always be more bears around that area.”

“The Centennial Campground staff is doing their best to manage the campground and minimize attractants, but there are still a lot of tents with food out there,” Battle said. “Until that changes, more bears will come to camp and go into tents.”

That creates an unsafe situation for both the people who live there now and the people who live there in the future, Battle said.

Cynthia Wardlow, the State Division of Wildlife Conservation regional supervisor for Southcentral Alaska, said the state has not confirmed that anyone staying at Centennial Campground has been injured by a bear. She encouraged people to report bear encounters directly to Fish and Game.

Wildlife officials use 12-gauge shotguns to shoot the bears, Wardlow said. Sometimes the state can prevent bear cubs from being killed, often by placing them outside the state, but in this case they couldn’t, she said. “Once we run out of placement options, we’ll have to euthanize those animals,” Wardlow said.

While state conservationists along with the Municipality of Anchorage and Centennial Campground have spent years getting rid of bear lures, the city had failed to notify state conservationists in advance of the changed situation at the campground, Wardlow said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the city has now provided 60 bear-resistant food storage containers and 20 bear-resistant 32-gallon containers “and is making hourly cleanups to reduce waste and food.”

“We will also continue to inspect camps and educate campers about safe bear practices,” said spokesman Corey Allen Young. “The priority will always be to protect people and mitigate risks to bears”

When asked if the city is opening up to liability issues at the East Anchorage campground, Young replied, “No. Just like public camps in Alaska and in Anchorage, there are risks to being outdoors.”

Daily News reporter Zachariah Hughes contributed to this report.

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