By Melinda Munson
Many Dyea residents locked their cars this past week, an unusual move in the quiet, sparsely populated wilderness. The uncommon safety measure wasn’t meant to deter humans – but rather, keep out a determined black bear who learned to open vehicle doors. That bear was killed Nov. 2.
The bear visited Bruce and Hana Schindler’s porch multiple times. It was even maced, but continued to return.
“Nothing would really deter it for long,” Bruce said.
Early in the morning of Oct. 27, Bruce noticed his car light on. When he went to investigate, the windows were fogged up.
“I suspected it [was the bear] but wrote it off. Bears don’t open car doors,” Bruce said. When he went to open the door, it was locked. The bear had climbed in and become trapped.
Skagway Police Chief Jerry Reddick responded to Bruce’s call for assistance. Reddick unlocked the car, opened up a door and banged on the back windshield.
Bruce said the bear stepped out “nonchalant, then walked away.”
The bear left his mark.
“He annihilated the inside of my car,” Bruce said. A door panel was ripped off and seats were slashed to the frame. After an incredulous call to the insurance company, it was determined insurance will cover some of the damage.
The incident scared Hana’s mother, who lives in Europe and is not used to bear activity.
“You’re moving back to Czech,” she told Hanna.
Bruce phoned all his neighbors to warn them about the episode. He said nine to 10 residents reported evidence that the bear tried to get into their cars. If the car was locked, it moved on to other vehicles, leaving hair and muddy paw prints inside.
Lori Healy had gum in her front seat. The bear chewed it up and spit it out on the console.
There continued to be multiple reports of the bear entering vehicles, peering in windows, and in one instance, entering a home to procure butter and ice cream from the refrigerator.
The bear was shot and killed by an unnamed resident after repeatedly entering the resident’s car and property. The police blotter described the bear as “dispatched by a citizen in defense.”
The local wildlife trooper was notified, and the bear’s hide was sent to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Reddick said the outcome was unfortunate and noted that, “We’re in their [the bears’] territory.”
However, he said the reality is the nuisance bear “would wake up and be a bigger bear, and a bigger problem” next spring.