Wildlife officials searching for answers after polar bear killed far outside normal range
FAIRBANKS, Alaska — A man from northeast Alaska said he fatally shot a polar bear that had strayed far south of the animal’s usual habitat.
Jim Hollandsworth of Arctic Village said he encountered the bear in early January. He said the bear had tried to get into his cabin about 20 miles from the village, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported .
Hollandsworth went to check a trapline and immediately saw evidence of the bear.
“Tore up one of the snowmachines, flipped it completely over,” he said, describing the damage.
Hollandsworth said he didn’t see the bear until the following morning, after he stepped outside his cabin to put gasoline in the generator.
“My dog barked, and the bear was on my back, right behind me. And I jumped back inside, grabbed my rifle,” Hollandsworth said. “By time I got turned around, it was heading for the door, the open door. Wanted to come in. So they got shot point-blank right there at the doorstep.”
He said the animal appeared to be a young female.
Polar bears are a federally protected species, with the exception of self-defense killings.
Hollandsworth said he reported the shooting to Alaska State Troopers. He said they put him touch with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages polar bears.
The agency did not respond to Alaska’s Energy Desk, possibly because of the federal government shutdown.
Eric Regehr, a University of Washington polar bear researcher who has worked in Alaska, said it’s unusual for the bears to venture far outside their normal territory.
The bear was shot more than 100 miles south of the Beaufort Sea coastline. He said the animals usually stay within a few miles of the coast, except for some pregnant females who may go farther inland to build their dens.
Regehr said it’s hard to say why a bear wandered so far from its range.
“It seems to particularly happen with young bears,” he said. “And it’s not clear if they’re dispersing, looking for new habitat. It’s not clear if they got, you know, mixed up, if they’re just inexperienced and they went the wrong way.”
Diminishing sea ice caused by climate change may lead some bears to appear in unusual places, he said. But sea ice is present at this time of year, so that doesn’t seem to be a likely explanation, Regehr said.
A polar bear was seen in 2008 in the village of Fort Yukon, about 110 miles south of Arctic Village, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.