A troublesome brown bear was shot and severely wounded by a Skagway police officer on Saturday night in the Dyea campground. The injured bear has not been seen after it hobbled into the Taiya River early Sunday morning. But National Park Service officials are warning the public to be alert of a potentially dangerous situation.
The officer responded to campers shouting and honking their car horn in an attempt to scare away the curious bear. The officer loaded his shotgun in an attempt to haze the bruin. Hazing usually involves non-lethal rubber bullets and noise makers meant to scare pesky wildlife. But the unnamed officer accidentally loaded the gun with a lethal slug. He hit the bear in its hind end.
“So, after being shot, the bear ran away from the campground,” says Ben Hayes, chief of interpretation for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway. He says park service rangers responded after the bear had been shot with the slug. Together, employees from both agencies tracked the bear for several hours.
“The bear was observed swimming across the Taiya River toward an island and was later tracked entering the river downstream of the island as it became dark,” Hayes says. “The bear was observed walking with great difficulty and it is believed that the bear most likely succumbed to the river current as it was in a greatly weakened state.”
Hayes says the rangers involved reported that the bear was leaving a trail of blood behind it and moving very “slowly and deliberately.”
Park staff and members of the police department met Monday morning to discuss the incident. There have been no further signs of the bear on the river bank since early Sunday morning. But, Hayes says, it’s not known for sure whether the bear actually died from its wound.
“So, right now, we’re treating the area like the bear may be still alive. So, Skagway Police Department officers and National Park Service rangers are maintaining an increased presence in Dyea in the coming days.”
The park service says the bear was shot once. But, according to a Facebook post by the Skagway Police Department on Sunday morning, the officer and National Park Service rangers tracked the injured bear and shot it a second time. It’s still unclear if the bear was shot once, or twice. The officer on duty in Skagway did not return a call from KHNS by press time. Again, here’s Hayes:
“That is not the information that I have. I don’t want to say it’s incorrect, but this is the information I have, that the bear was shot once.”
The police department is urging people in the area to be on “heightened alert” and call authorities immediately if the injured bear is spotted. Hayes says people can call 911 or, if there is no cell service, use the emergency phone at the ranger’s station.
Hayes says at the Monday meeting, the group deduced that the bear shot by police, was likely the same adolescent male that has been getting into garbage in Dyea. He says, as always, people should secure garbage and other attractants. Or better yet, invest in an electric fence. He says the Skagway PD and the park service are working on bear management strategies and training opportunities to prevent something like this from happening again.
“The last thing we want to do is harm a bear unnecessarily,” says Hayes.
Earlier this summer, two bears were shot by Parks Canada wildlife employees on the Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail after a bear broke into a food-storage cabin.
Hayes says three bear shootings in less than a month is worrisome, but protecting the public is paramount.
“It’s always a concern whenever bears are put down. Our main objective is to protect the flora and fauna in the park, but the number one priority is visitor and employee safety at all times.”
Both the police and park service will be scanning the area regularly for the next several days.