Four black bears that had repeatedly entered a campground for the homeless in Anchorage, Alaska and searched tents for leftover food and garbage were killed Tuesday after authorities said they “posed a risk to human safety.”
A city spokesman said on Wednesday that no one was injured by the bears, which were killed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The boars — a sow with two cubs and another adult — had been eating food from tents at Centennial Campground, which is located near a southern Alaska state park and is managed by city officials, according to a statement from the Department of Fish and Fish. game. The area is also home to “extensive areas of bear habitat,” the department said.
The city, the largest in the state with about 288,000 residents, had told homeless people to move to Centennial Campground after it closed its largest homeless shelter on June 30, according to The Anchorage Daily News. About 210 homeless people reside at Centennial Campground, a city spokesperson said.
The decision to move the homeless to a new area raised concerns among some state officials and people in the community. State Senator Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat, said in a June 24 letter to Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson that transforming the park into a homeless camp “would create an unsafe environment for campers and local residents alike.” (In his letter, however, he did not mention bear threats as a security risk.)
Read more about the homelessness crisis in America
The killing of the bears raised questions in the community about the safety of the hundreds of homeless people living at the site.
Corey A. Young, a spokesperson for Mr. Bronson, said in a statement that officials “continue to inspect camps and educate campers about bear-safe practices.” He added that private security personnel were already there, but they would now be working around the clock.
“As many old Alaskans can attest, bears don’t just go to campgrounds,” he said. “In the summer you see them in many neighborhoods throughout the city. The priority will always be to protect people and mitigate the risks to bears.”
The confusion over the camp comes as cities across the country continue to struggle with homelessness in their streets and parks — a problem exacerbated by the pandemic. Homelessness in the United States is up 2.2 percent in 2020 from the previous year, according to an annual nationwide survey by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development completed before the pandemic.
In 2021, a follow-up report from the agency found that there were more than 326,000 homeless people in the country, an 8 percent drop from 2020, though the agency warned that homelessness remained “an urgent crisis”. About 2,000 people were homeless in Alaska in January 2020, up from about 1,900 the year before.
The Department of Fish and Game said in its statement that keeping bears away from human food is “the most important part of preventing conflict and reducing confrontation between bears and humans.”
Because bears are “animals of habit,” they search for the same food spots every year, the department said.
Dave Battle, the department’s area biologist in Anchorage, said in a statement Wednesday that there were “still a lot of tents with food in them” at the campground.
“Until that changes, more bears will come to the campsite and go into tents,” he said. “That’s a safety issue, both for the people who live there now and for anyone who stays after them.”
Mr Young said officials had brought 60 bear-resistant food storage containers and 20 bear-resistant 32-gallon containers and were cleaning the site every hour.
Bear attacks in Alaska remain rare. According to a study by the epidemiology department of the state health department, ten people died in bear attacks in Alaska from 2000 to 2017, and 68 people were hospitalized for injuries from such attacks.
But bear attacks appear to be increasing worldwide because of habitat overlap resulting from human population growth and outdoor recreation, the study said.
Mr Battle described the killing of bears as a “very temporary solution”, especially at Centennial Campground.
“There will always be more bears in that area because of the location,” he said. “And we can’t teach bears not to eat what they can find.”