Two black bears were captured and killed in Eagle River last weekend by the state Department of Fish and Game, after reports that their behavior had escalated from eating garbage to vehicle break-ins.

Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the department, said about eight to 10 callers had reported the bears “cruising” neighborhoods near the Eagle River Nature Center last week.

“We started getting an increased number of calls last week from this area that two bears were breaking into cars,” Marsh said. “That behavior likely started the usual way, with bears getting into supplies of garbage and other human food that hadn’t been properly put away.”

Marsh said it was initially thought that the bears were a sow and a cub due to their frequent sightings together, but the bruins responsible for the break-ins – including a Jeep which had its soft-top cover torn open – turned out to be adult males.

“In at least one report, it sounds like the car was actually left unlocked and the bears were actually able to figure out how to open it with the latch – it sounds extreme, but they are smart animals,” Marsh said. “In a car, they get inside and they get rewarded, and now they start associating cars with food.”

In the face of that escalation, Marsh said, the department “had no choice” but to euthanize the bears. The animals were initially captured using a live trap Saturday, one in the morning and another that night, which had been set off Prudhoe Bay Drive.

Earlier this month, Fish and Game biologists killed a brown bear which had also become a garbage bear in the Chugiak area. At that time, Marsh recommended that people be vigilant about storing garbage and anything else that could draw bears’ attention – including barbecue grills – in bear-proof containers or secured garages.

Fish and Game’s website can take online reports of wildlife concerns at any time, through its “Report a Wildlife Encounter” button on the right side of the page. During weekday business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., people can call Fish and Game’s Anchorage office with local wildlife issues at 907-267-2257.

“If there’s imminent danger to public safety, to people, by all means call 911,” Marsh said.

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