On May 22, the Forest Service received a report of damage to the Helm Creek and Helm Bay cabins. Rangers suspected the damage was caused by a bear. After further investigation, they realized the culprit wasn’t one bear, but two. Here’s Paul Robbins, public affairs officer for the Tongass National Forest.
“They had broken down and ripped off the doors, broken some of the windows and ripped into the outhouses that were attached to the cabins,” he said. “So, there was significant damage to both.”
Robbins said the bears were most likely attracted to the cabins because of leftover food or garbage. That is a big problem.
“Once these bears become food-conditioned to these camping areas and to these products that folks have left behind, then they keep coming back,” he said. “That’s why it’s a public safety issue. Once they get a nose for it, they’re not going to stop coming back for that easy source of food.”
And once bears become a threat to people, said Robbins, the situation is handled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
According to Fish and Game’s most recent policy regarding management of human-bear conflicts, there are five options for the Division of Wildlife Conservation if a bear becomes a threat.
The first is to employ strict garbage management policies. The second is to use aversive conditioning: teaching bears to associate human food with pain or discomfort.
The third option is to relocate the bear. The fourth is to capture the bear and confine it to a zoo. The fifth is to let a hunter kill the bear.
The policy states that the fifth option, quote, “may be the only effective alternative once efforts to avoid a human-bear conflict have failed.”
In Misty Fiords, this proved true.
“Well, the bear was taken via a state permit, by a hunter,” Robbins said.
In order to prevent situations like this, Robbins encourages campers and forest visitors to stick to the Leave No Trace guidelines.
“Pack up whatever you brought in, and make sure you’re taking out bear-safe containers for all of your toiletries and your foods and your other scented items that might attract these bears,” he said.
The bear that damaged the Helm Creek Cabin has been killed, but Fish and Game has yet to locate the other bear. So, the Helm Bay Cabin will remain closed until the bear is located and repairs are complete.
The closure is expected to last until July 6.