Sitka reconvenes task force after worst year for bear killings in decades

A bear in the underbrush
14 brown bears were euthanized in Sitka in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Meredith Redick)

The first brown bears of spring have been spotted in Sitka. Not a moment too soon, the assembly is reviving a bear task force to address increasing conflict between bears and humans within the community.

The new task force will spend six months investigating Sitka’s bear history, reviewing the work of the last task force — which was established in 2005 — and studying bear deterrent efforts in other communities.

Assembly member Crystal Duncan, who sponsored the discussion item with Rebecca Himschoot, said the decision came on the heels of Sitka’s worst year for bear killings in the last 30 years.

“We want to prevent that,” Duncan said. “And we know that it needs to start now.”

Last year’s bear activity was unprecedented. Fourteen bears were euthanized in Sitka last year — more than double any other year on record since 1980.

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska asked the Assembly to prioritize the community’s bear issue during the government to government meeting this winter. And on March 8, Fish and Game wildlife biologist Stephen Bethune told the assembly that the community needs to figure out a way to deal with its garbage problem.

“If there was one, one method that is going to significantly impact our issues, it’s bear resistant containers,” he said.

City Administrator John Leach said that whatever the bear working group came up with, there would be a price tag for the city to consider.

“We talk about bear proof cans — they’re expensive,” Leach said. “We may not be able to do that across the entire community, and may be targeted to higher traffic areas for bears. But there’s a cost to that.”

The task force will include representatives from Fish and Game, the city, the Sitka Tribe, BIHA and the Sitka National Historical Park, and other groups.

The city is also seeking two at-large volunteers to join the task force.

KCAW - Sitka

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