A bear injured with lethal rounds in Dyea on July 16 has still not been located. But the failed hazing attempt has given the Skagway Police Department cause to make changes.
According to a July 18 Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park press release, a Skagway Police Department officer was patrolling the Dyea campground when he observed campers honking horns, yelling and making noise in an attempt to scare away a young brown bear.
The officer loaded what he thought was a non-lethal rubber slug and shot at the bear. It was only later, when a NPS ranger arrived at the scene that the pair realized the bear had been shot with a live round.
Skagway Police Chief Ray Leggett said the department’s lethal and non-lethal rounds look almost identical. The officer unloaded his shotgun, reloaded with what he thought was a non-lethal slug, aimed and shot the bear in the backside. Leggett said he takes full responsibility for the mix-up.
“The rounds look close enough. They are expensive,” he said. “We don’t have the hugest budget in the world to buy a bunch of stuff like this.”
Leggett said a lack of training was also partially to blame, as the new officer had yet to attend proper hazing classes.
“They do not train officers how to haze bears,” he said. “There is no training for that unless you go to a certain place and get training from Fish and Game. It’s not a common trained thing.”
He said the officer was signed up to train with NPS, but the class had yet to occur.
Now, alongside the necessary training, Leggett plans to avoid future problems by recalling all non-lethal rounds and painting them a specific color.
“There will be absolutely no question in anyone’s mind,” he said.
But despite being shot with a lethal slug, the status of the bear is still unknown.
Ben Hayes, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park’s Chief of Interpretation, said after the bear was shot, SPD officers and KGRNHP rangers tracked the bear, following a significant blood trail which ran along the banks, into the river and finally onto an island.
The bear was seen leaving the island and returning to the river, Hayes said.
As the bear was injured, he said Chief Ranger Tim Steidel shot at it as it crossed the Taiya River, but was not confident that he successfully hit it. The search for the bear lasted until 1 a.m., at which time it became too dark to see.
The bear has not been seen since, but both SPD and NPS had a heightened presence in Dyea during the following week.
“The concern we have is that bears that are injured or hurt are more dangerous because they are very defensive, and they are more likely to exert aggressive behavior on people,” Hayes said.
Should someone see what appears to be an injured bear, Hayes said they should call 911 immediately and report its whereabouts.
A black bear was shot earlier this month after circling a Dyea house for hours, keeping a mother and her children locked inside. Leggett said the house had bells on the doors, and every time a door would open, the bear would head toward the house.
Leggett said homeowner Brandon Lawrence asked for permission to shoot the bear.
“I said you have the right to protect your life and property,” Leggett said.
According to Leggett, SPD was not asked to visit the home until after the bear was shot, so as to seal it for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Lawrence could not be reached for comment.
Habituated bears have become cause for concern in the past month. Two brown bears were shot on the Chilkoot Trail in June after breaking into a food cache and damaging the food-filled cabinets inside. Parks Canada shut down the Canadian side of the trail and enacted strict guidelines for hikers in the weeks that followed.
The trail is once again open, but Hayes said campers and hikers should still be bear aware.
“First and foremost, protect your food when in bear country, or anything that could attract the bear,” he said. “Definitely be aware that when you’re in Dyea, you’re in bear country.”