Haines bears break into cars, lick booster seats

Two brown bears on July 10, 2012 in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness on Admiralty Island in the Tongass National Forest. (Photo courtesy Don MacDougall/U.S. Forest Service)

At least one brown bear in Haines has figured out how to open car doors. That’s a new trick here. And for some residents, it’s better than the alternative.

“He could have just busted those windows out if he wanted or even ripped the door off the frame. I’ve seen what he’s done to the seats to other people in town,” said CaSandra Nash.

She said she feels pretty lucky, as she pointed out the paw prints all over her truck.

CaSandra Nash points out the paw prints on her truck from a hungry bear. October, 2020. (Claire Stremple/KHNS)

“And he used his mouth to open it. You can kind of see — it’s rained a little bit since then — but then the inside of the door here, and then he was all over the car seat,” Nash said.

Nash says her daughter’s car seat is usually covered in crumbs from after school snacks. The bear licked them all up but left the rest of the truck unscathed.

“Grizzly detailing service,” she said. “I highly recommend it.”

Other Haines residents haven’t gotten off so easily. Some bears have gotten trapped in vehicles when the door shut behind them — and then torn up the interiors while escaping.

At least 22 bears have been shot and killed by law enforcement and residents in defense of life and property this year. Some in Haines are mourning the deaths. But if social media posts are any indicator, others don’t think 22 dead bears is enough.

Bear researcher Anthony Crupi says it’s not all bears that are causing damage, so more DLPs doesn’t necessarily mean safer streets.

“We tend to generalize that well, all bears are doing this when, in reality, it’s probably a specific animal or two that is creating all of these calls and complaints and property damage. And so when we generalize to the greater population, it really does a disservice to the animal and the resource in general,” he said.

Crupi has been studying bears for Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game in this region for twenty years. He says the uptick in damage isn’t due to a higher bear population. Rather, late berries, a long winter and slow fish runs made it hard for bears to find food this year.

“Last year, in August, we saw most of the animals up at 2,000, 2,500 feet. And when you have a berry crop failure like that it kind of compresses the density all into these lower elevations,” Crupi explained.

Lower elevations — like town. The science behind the property damage isn’t bringing anyone’s garage door or shredded upholstery back, though.

The Haines Borough Police Department has recorded almost 400 bear calls this year. That’s roughly twice last year’s total. In the past two weeks alone there have been 30 incidents of property damage or break-ins, overwhelmingly of vehicles.

And that’s as the total number of bears is going down. The 22 bears shot by DLP doesn’t take into account the 14 killed so far in the permitted bear harvest. That’s more than double the harvest quota of 16 bears for the region.

The hunt this year will run its course. Management biologists will decide whether to limit or close next year’s hunt when the data from this season is in.

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