Kermode Bear Killed

Ron Niebrugge Alaska, Photos, Travel, Wildlife 35 Comments

Kermode Bear

A white colored black bear near Skagway, Alaska.  These white colored bears are also known as Kermode, Spirit or Ghost Bears.

Certainly one of my highlights last summer was spotting and photographing this rare bear.  You may have remembered me writing about it here:  Spirit Bear.   The local residents were so excited to have such a rare bear around, that they lobbied and convinced the State Board of Game to pass a law protecting the taking of a white black bear.

Last Saturday, the Anchorage Daily News reported that someone named Thor Henricksen allegedly killed this popular bear on June 9 during the spring black bear hunting season.    Black bears are extremely prevalent in Alaska, there probably hundreds in just the Skagway area alone – why someone would kill this particular bear is absolutely beyond me!   

To add insult to injury, the paper also reported that “state biologist determined that the bear that was shot was not fully white and therefore not protected under the regulation”  Clearly the intent of the regulation was to protect this bear – sounds like Thor may be friends with some state biologists!  Not surprisingly, the state has refused to allow the hide to be viewed by reporters from Juneau Empire.

It would be interesting to read the local Skagway paper – this bear was pretty much the main story in town when I was there last year, I bet it is again for an entirely different reason.

Comments 35

  1. Ron,

    You are really fortunate to have captured a photo of this bear. It could become a very valuable photo, since they are rare and now there are even fewer of them!


  2. That is so sad. I hope environmental activists will make life interesting for that hunter. What a jerk.

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    Unfortunately, I think you are right Sherri!

    Hi Della,

    I have a feeling a lot of people aren’t real happy with this guy right now, and not just environmental activists. Even some fellow black bear hunters won’t be pleased because it prefects poorly on the sport.



  4. ::: why someone would kill this particular bear is absolutely beyond me :::

    Trophy? Isn’t it always the case?

    Why someone would kill ANY bear is absolutely beyond me, Ron. I hope life gets very interesting for this particular “hunter”.

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  6. The bear Thor Henricksen shot was on June 5, 2008 at four o’clock in the afternoon on his property and acting aggressive. It was NOT a Kermode bear or a Glacier Bear, both actually a subspecies of a Black Bear. A Glacier Bear is actually legal to hunt in our area. Thor is not a trophy collector or does he care to hunt bear.

    The Kermode Bear is known as a “Spirit Bear” and lives hundreds of miles from where Thor shot the “Bear”. Kermode, a black bear subspecies, ranges from Prince Royal Islands to Prince Rupert Island on the coast of central British Columbia and inland toward Hazelton, British Columbia. Canada. That the bear Thor shot reached national news, with misinformation from the beginning is ridiculous. I believe neighbors were feeding that bear so it would come back and made a “nuisance bear” out of it, which lead to its demise.

    While it is interesting to view bears, they are neither safe or cute, they are a preditor. A bear just mauled and seriously injured a girl riding her bike in a park in Anchorage, Alaska. I know from personal experience that even a cub bear is no adversary for a person. Having a bear greeting you when you open your door or having them invade your home is not a pleasant experience. I have no children, but my neighbors do and the children cannot play outside when bears are roaming the country unless you want to use them for bear bait.

  7. Post

    Hi Irene,

    Thank you for taking the time to write a detailed response. It was not only a detailed response, but a mature, unemotional response, and not an angry, name calling one that I would have expected from most people given what I had written, and the follow up comments.

    It is unfortunate to hear that your neighbors were possibly feeding the bear. There is certainly plenty of truth to the phrase “A fed bear is a dead bear” Clearly once a bear learns to expect food from humans, their behavior can change, and it is very possible that if it wasn’t Thor, someone else may have had to result to the same response. It is nice to hear it wasn’t taken as a trophy.

    No question bears can be very dangerous. But I should point out, the girl mauled in Anchorage was riding a bike, by herself, along a salmon stream in the middle of the night, and was attacked by a Grizzly that authorities believed may have had a cub. I really don’t equate that to a seeing 3 or 4 year old black bear at 4:00 in the afternoon, while evidently being armed, and with the possible safety of a home nearby.

    As far as the type of bear goes, I’m really not qualified to to say. I’m trying to remember where I originally heard it identified as a Spirit or Kermode bear – I know I didn’t make that up, I am fairly certain that identification was from the Skagway newspaper. I have always associated Sprite Bears with the central coast area of British Columbia, but I didn’t realize this was the full extent of their range. The white colored bear in Skagway definitely wasn’t an albino. It would be interesting to learn if it’s DNA matches that on it’s southern counterparts, or if it was just some kind of abnormality.

    I know you are saying it wasn’t a Spirit Bear, but was the bear Thor killed the white colored bear that had been seen around Skagway the last few years? There seems to be a lot of speculation about this, but not a clear answer.

    You must understand, seeing that bear was one of the highlights of my trip down to Southeast last summer, and even if the situation was justified, and unavoidable, it is still unfortunate.

    Thanks again Irene,


  8. Your article is much more informatics for all of the visitor or tourist.I am very happy to read it. This is really very nice. Thank you for it.

  9. This was horrible to hear on so many accounts.

    White black bears are being seen in Alaska, NWT, Alberta, Manitoba, and the mainland of BC. Who can say whether they are or aren’t genetically a Kermode Bear, same as the spirit bear on the Northwest coast of BC. Because white black bears are rarely seen outside of that area there have been no tests done or data compiled. Something I would greatly like to see changed.

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  11. Hi Ron,
    I love your pictures of the Spirit bear. That bear sure has made a lot of headlines.

    The bear was just in his second year on this earth heading towards his third. This bear came by my place at least once a week the year before when it was just a wee cub. They are given birth during the winter months of hibernation. When black mama bear brought spirit bear and its brother cinnamon bear they were both taking turns nursing on mama in my yard in early spring. The bears would roam thru the mountain side homes near AB mountain trail on the west side of the river then go to Jewels Gardens still west side of the river to check out her compost pile some times or head up to Liarsville where they probably had salmon scraps on a compost pile or at least the smell of salmon and whatever they gave their tourists during that season.. Most likely it crossed the river somewhere there abouts. It was also seen on the train side of the mountains where there was berries or other vegetational tidbits to its liking. It also took off the other direction going thru Brodersons place which is next to mine on its way to Long Bay being the south end of town and the far west side of the river. It must have covered a 20 – 40 mile hike every few days to a week possibly much more. They have an enormous range they cover while grazing and feeding. It loved the cranberries and horsetail on my mountain side and the clover and wild strawberries as well.

    I seriously doubt that bear was the least bit aggressive as I had seen it that very day and it was always very shy and well behaved. It was not a trouble maker and if people think of bears as killers and label them as such then they have not taken the time to get to know these creatures. I am wary of bears because I know their potential for harm just like I know the potential for harm from a big pit bull but that does not mean I am going to shoot it. and they too are wary of me because I too like the bears have my potentials to harm as we all do. A black bear is more herbivorous than caniverous. We too are considered carnivors but like the bear we also live on both plants and meat. If you watch a black bear you will see him spending more time grazing on vegetation than eating any meat.

    FYI Irene’s letter is biased to say the least. She is Thor Hendricksens’ mother. Of course, she will have the opinion that he had his reasons. But she is forgetting the reason he said in his interview. He said he had seen it the year before passing thru his yard and had made his mind up then if it came thru again the next year he was going to shoot it. And HE DID. Those are the fact from his words. So Irene’s story is from a mother’s point of view and not entirely to what Thor had told the people and media.

    And that bear was a Spirit Bear. We are not far from British Colombia over the Glaciers. In fact, I do believe the road passes a small part of it when on the way to White horse which is 110 miles from Skagway. Bears cover a lot of terrain and we too are a Rain Forest just like British Colombia so it stands to reason that one of the male or female…(but most likely male as both mamas have been black bears..) Kermode/spirit bears roamed down our way and mated with some of the black bear here. Again we have another mama…not the same one as that Spirit Bears mama, but with another light colored bear cub this year. It is a little more grayish so probably will be classified a glacier bear but there was no mistaking the bear Thor Shot to be anything other than the Spirit Bear. Pictures were taken the same day on the way to his house and was not seen since anywhere with the whole town looking for him. So I will not believe it wasn’t the spirit bear especially when neither Thor nor the Dept. Of Fish & Game (who incidentally did not protect the bear as they had promised) would show anyone of us interested friends of the Spirit Bear it’s pelt or even pictures of it which they also promised to share. That is too much like refusing to take the breathalizer test when stopped for drunk driving. I mean what are we to think and how stupid can we be? I think Thor made a horrible decision and in my eyes it was wrong. The Fish & Game lied to the people of Skagway and changed the wording from White-phased to WHITE BEAR. Were they just covering their asses because both work for the state and they were not there to prevent it? Or was he a friend of Thor’s? I don’t know. I guess only they will ever know the answer to their change to their promises. So you can say, according to them, legally he commited no crime. Regardless, he was wrong to shoot that bear as it is still an endangered species whether our Fish & Game ended up allowing it or not. They took the easy way out and covered their mistake and own powerlessness….so they wouldn’t have to punish at least that someone. Thank God British Columbia finally came to their senses and regardless of money and power finally because of one young person caring enough to stir that hornets nest till he got some stings in a few stop the lumber industry from destroying the rain forest on their Islands where the Spirit Bear supposedly only existed. Well not any more. The Kermode/Spirit Bear by the mysterious ways of nature and Skagways luck (if we don’t continue to shoot to kill instead of to ward off what we fear) has brought the Spirit Bear to our home town. Skagway was overcome with joy to see one here. It was RARE to be here. POssibly a once in a life time thing….or it may happen again. I do hope so. But not often does mankind get a second chance to make right a terrible wrong against nature and its glorious wonders. It is a miracle how it ever got here. I just pray that our people will not be trophy inclined to want to kill any more of the white phased black bear or any bear for that matter, using the excuses of our law to kill for a rare pelt or macho man egos. or out of fear when there is nothing to fear but their own imaginations. Especially when they don’t even go hunting. There is no sport in that. Just open your back door and pull the trigger….that is not hunting. If truly afraid, yell at it to go, or fire a warning shot and then the bear comes forward…then there is something to fear but not till that happens. Clap or yell at a bear and they run. This bear was a treasure. A miracle to be here, to have traveled so far over the glaciers from British Columbia but somehow its parents did. It came to us. The local Indians knew right away just how precious this bear was. He held captive every man, woman or child who saw it. He was shy, coy and I looked forward to every time he passed thru my yard as most others did. Not once did he make any advances to me, infact, he would run up a tree if I came towards him. Now tell me that is an aggressive bear. I don’t think so. I have dozens of visits and stories about that bear and there was nothing menacing about him. Only our own fears make us think they could be dangerous. Anything CAN BE dangerous….but can’t we walk in moderation and tell the difference between danger and just plain splendor of life and its phenomenons of nature and the sharing and harmony with both creatures great and small? Only our lack of communication in proper ways make any bear a nuinsance. I know from fact and experience with lots of bear and other wild creatures.
    Someone has to speak up for this bear because look how hard and how long of a fight it took for that young lad in British Columbia to finally get the government to see these bears for the rare breeds they are and to save them from extinction. We need to get busy with our pens and papers and write our legislation, governors, mayors, fish & game, park services and any other entity which could help in this matter. God Bless the Beasts and the Children. We don’t need to kill. We need to learn to appreciate that which is awesome and has something of such beauty and goodness to give to us, that we haven’t even figured it out yet. All we know is it raises a joy in our hearts and something inside us knows that miracles are still around us. I felt joy and love around that cub. He reeked of it. His very demeaner was one of love, harmony and respect.

    There have been some Grizzly in Anchorage hurt someone but We have never had a bear in the Skagway area hurt anyone ever. This can go clear back to the Tlingkets who lived here before Irene ever got to Skagway. I have talked to many who were raised here, much older than she and their ancestors and never has a bear hurt anyone. We learn to deal with the bears as we do people, dogs, coyotes, and any other animal that goes thru our property. Of course, if it was killing something on our property there would be a reason to shoot it, but this bear did not kill anything but fish. Sorry to disagree with Irene but I see it entirely different. I can speak of this bear because I knew him well. I am so tired of hearing that people should shoot a creature that Might hurt us. Do we really want to teach our children to be so afraid of every creature that they have to kill it first and use good sense later????? Killing should only be for necessity not out of fear. I would hope that as Americans we have evolved enough to be able to tell the difference and not be so afraid of great creatures. Their body language isn’t much different than ours. So surely we should be able to see when they mean no harm. I like Thor live on the mountain side in the woods….. It is a privilege to see a bear passing thru and if I don’t want it there I shoo it away. If I don’t want it to come back, I shoot in the air and yell at it. They stay away…….however I enjoy their passings and eagerly look about during the days and sometimes nights to see if one of the creatures of Gods good earth have honored me with their presence. I am charmed by them. Alice


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    Wow Alice,

    Thank you very much for writing such a detail comment – having your local perspective is really helpful. You confirmed what I believed. I couldn’t agree more with what you have written.

    Thanks again,


  13. Amen to that. Irene. You just go girl! What a precious gift of nature that you have been given. This unique, rare, precious gift of a spirit bear.

    We in Elkford BC, also had a spirit bear come to our town this fall. It does fill you with awe and the driven need to protect it.

    Thanks for the email Ron.


  14. Just a thought from a Skagway local. Irene and her ilk have tried to pass the blame for her son’s actions by saying others fed the bear, thus making it dangerous. Thor killed the bear for the hide. Case closed. No one fed the bear, and it’s a lame attempt to cover up the fact her “hunter” son killed a bear in his front yard, from his porch, that weighed less than 110 pounds.
    Good job. How much is the hide worth? That’s the real story.
    Oh, and she forgot to mention how he tried to cover it up until a MEMBER OF HIS OWN FAMILY ratted him out to Fish and Game.
    Forgot that part, did you Irene?
    Always check the facts.

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  16. Hey Ron,

    As a Student of Skagway School, I am highly interested in this issue. Because of the new Glacier bear cub that has been sighted in Skagway, it is an issue of immediate importance.

    There will be a community forum this Saturday to discuss a change in regulation to adequately protect white-phased black bears in the Skagway Borough. The center of the discussion (I am predicting) will be over ‘resource allocation’. Should Glacier Bears (resource) be ‘allocated’ to hunters, or to viewers/observers/photographers/artists/etc ? You may be very interested in following the outcome of this meeting. It has the potential to set policy for the state of Alaska.

    In my personal opinion, every person derserves the right to cherish this incredible creature. For the youth of Skagway, these rare, inspirational, and hope bringing animals are part of our future. They help make our home special. I have never seen a Glacier Bear in Skagway. All students have seen the photos- few have seen the bear itself. This is a ‘resource’ that should belong to more than just hunters. Non-hunters should have the right to enjoy these animals as well.

    Thanks for sparking conversation on this topic. It is a vitally important one.

  17. Post

    Hey Skagway Student,

    I didn’t realize there was a Glacier bear cub seen in the Skagway area, that is awesome! I would love to see this bear protected so that others could enjoy seeing such a unique animal for years to come. I know I will never forget the day I saw the Glacier Bear.

    Thanks for sharing. If you don’t mind, it would be great if you could post the outcome of the meeting on Saturday if there is one.

    Thanks a lot!


  18. Hey Ron,

    The only true concensus reached at the meeting was that Skagway has a bear/garbage problem, and that that is the foremost important issue facing the town. Unfortunately, the Glacier bear cub seen in Skagway is already addicted to garbage, as its mother has taught it and its two siblings to feed from garbage cans. There is also belief that people in town have been feeding the bears. A fed bear is a dead bear.

    However, as was discussed at the meeting, this is a seperate issue than that of protecting future Glacier Bears from hunting. There were two dominant opinions represented at the meeting: One advocating that Glacier Bears, being unique to SE Alaska, and rarely seen in the Skagway valley held significant value to viewers and observers and should be ‘allocated’ to the viewers in that respect. The other side advocating that hunters have already had too many infringements on their rights to hunt, or, as it was gracefully stated, “the environmentalists” are “pissing on their cheerios”.

    This meeting does not signal the end of this conflict. It is now time for anyone interested in the issue to write letters to the board of game voicing their opinion.

    “Conservation is sometimes perceived as stopping everything cold, as holding whooping cranes in higher esteem than people. It is up to science to spread the understanding that the choice is not between wild places or people, it is between a rich or an impoverished existence for man.” – Thomas E. Lovejoy

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    Hi Skagway Student,

    Thanks for the update.

    I agree, it is two different issues. garbage bears are a problem all over Alaska, but Glacier Bears are something very unique. There are so many bears available to hunters, I don’t understand the opposition to protecting such a special population.

    Thanks again, and keep me posted.


  20. Hi everyone and thanks for bringing attention to this issue.

    Do you know if there is a conservation group anywhere that supports the protection of Glacier Bears? I’d love to join in and help in any way I can. Even though I don’t live in Alaska, I still consider these rare bears an AMERICAN treasure and am willing to do my best to support their conservation.

    Like Ron said, with so many black bears available to hunters I can’t understand why they have to kill the extremely rare Glacier/Spirit bear in Alaska. Canada protects these rare bears, why can’t the US do the same?

    Also, can anyone post the name and info of the elected officials in Alaska, and Skawgay? We should start a letter campaign to support the hunting ban of these magnificent bears.

    Thanks, Carlos.

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    Hi Carlos,

    I’m on the road right now, so not as much help as I might be, but that is a good question. There are some great groups in Alaska.

    I think the best place to start is with the Alaska Board of Game. They tend to be very pro-hunting, but they are the ones that attempted to pass regulations to protect the last Spirit Bear. It is exciting to hear of a new one, and hopefully they would be willing to try to protect this unique bear as well.



  22. Thanks for the response, Ron.

    I will immediately send letters to the Alaska Board of Game about this issue. Plus I’m contacting the ‘Alaska Wildlife Alliance’ to try to organize a campaign to protect these rare Spirit and Glacier bears.

    And to all bear conservationists on this site, please feel free to contact me at… I would love to get your ideas and perspectives on this issue; especially from local people in Skagway and southeast Alaska.

    Thanks. Carlos Garza, Houston, TX (formerly of Anacortes, WA).

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    Wow, that is great Carlos! I am going to be away from the computer for the next two days, I will follow up with you when I get back.



  24. I am not from Alaska but I live on this planet and we are neighbours. I care about protecting what is precious. I value the special bears in Skagway and want to see them protected. I care about our people, wildlife and environment. We need to do what is good and right for all three.

    By the way Ron, Fantastic Pictures from your trip in Utah!!

  25. i have hunted bears in the state of utah with dogs for eight years now and in that time i have caught two blond bears, now i haven’t read all of the post, nor do i know any thing about spirt bears, but i do know black bears and they range in all nature colors, it by be that this bear is just a light colored blonde bear, they are rare but not unheard of, and not a freak. Nor do i kill bears, i take pictures and walk away, but here you also have to draw out, and if i caught a blonde bear i would be tempted to shot it to.
    Just my comment on the issue.

  26. hey, i just checked canada’s listings for rare and endangered species. It wasn’t listed anywhere. I wonder if the information posted above about the Kermode/spirit bear being listed as endangered in canada is a little premature. apparently it is only illegal to shoot the “white coloured” bears, as we have seen in the above incident this approach doesnt seem to work very well. the BC government did stipulate that the area the bear naturally inhabits should be protected, and then from what i’ve been able to find went ahead with logging plans on 1/3 of the supposedly protected area…i hope i’m wrong and just havent been able to find the most recent information however i have a sinking feeling that my Canadian government is as unwise as the fish and wildlife officers of Skagway, deciding that money and dismissing negative publicity is more important than protecting something that we should treasure.

  27. An update on the Skagway Glacier Bear protection issue:

    Alaska Board of Fish and Game unanimously voted to reject the proposal to expand the definition of ‘Glacier Bear’, which would make the law protecting them more enforceable. Members on the board stated that they were frustrated in Skagway’s inability to come to a ‘compromise’ on the issue.

    Also, I would like to add a note in defense of Thor. In your article you point a very critical finger in his direction, even suggesting that he had ties within the Dept. of Fish and Game (which is, of course, complete libel). While he may have shot what the community had reguarded as the spirit bear, he claims that he did so in defense of property. It can debated on whether that was the correct choice of action, but it is clear that many of Skagway’s resident bears have become aggressive. This is in part due to their easy access to garbage and habituation to humans. If Skagway truly intends to protect future glacier bears in the region, it must take action to bear-proof waste, and educate the public on proper garbage handling. I certainly hope that Thor will help lead skagway towards bear-safe waste management.

  28. Post

    Hi Skagway Student,

    Thanks again for the update. I’m disappointed the Board didn’t take action to protect these rare and beautiful animals.

    You right, I did point a critical figure at Thor, although he was the one that shot and killed the bear.

    Suggesting it “sounds like” he had friends with Fish and Game may have been an unprofessional comment made because of my emotions at the time, but it clearly wasn’t “complete libel”.

    To be libel, the comment needs to either expressly state or imply to be factual. Using words like “sounds like” doesn’t meet that burden of proof IMO.

    In addition, the statement needs to give an individual a negative image. I don’t believe having friends at Fish and Game is a negative – I hope not, as I do. The negative issue was the shooting the bear – whether that was the correct action can be debated, but I don’t think anyone claims he didn’t shoot the bear.

    Bear / trash issues have been ignored for too long, and seem to becoming more prevalent – we have a similar situation in Seward. I completely agree, much more needs to be done in this area.

    Thanks again for the comment,


  29. Post

    Hi Neffaria,

    I agree, we found out how effective it is making it illegal to shoot the “white coloured” bears. I’m surprised there isn’t more protection for them in BC, given the small, but consistent populations found on the coast there.

  30. Excellent response to Irene! One can’t help being angered by actions like Thor’s! I find it hard to believe that he didn’t shoot the bear just because he wanted to. Samson, one of Este’s most gentle and popular popular elk, was killed by a hunter with bow and arrow on the YMCA property several years ago. He didn’t get his trophy, but did get a big fine and the publicity did a lot to increase penalties for poaching in Colorado. They now track some kills in RMNP using DNA (even tracking the hunters out of state) and people are doing some jail time in addition to losing their trophies! Love it!!!

    We have problems with fed bears here in Estes too. There were a couple of growing cubs on my deck this summer going after the hummingbird and other feeders. (That makes me part of the problem, doesn’t it?) Unfortunately, one figured out how to jump up and pull the bottom off the feeders, while I use a ladder to put them in place. (Got a reasonably good photo through the window as he prepared for his jump.) It was a big jump too. Couldn’t believe it! That stopped the bird feeding for a while. They didn’t come back. As you know, bears are also very clever at opening garbage cans and town dumps sure don’t help, as they learned in Yellowstone a long time ago. I was glad Burns covered the issue in his series. We just don’t report our sightings up here where I live outside of Estes. After all, we are living in their home. We have to be sure to keep doors and low windows closed and that can be tricky with no air conditioning.

    I liked DOWs response to the aggressive elk on the golf course here — tranquilizing him and sawing off the antlers instead of killing him. No similar solution for the bears.

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    I didn’t realize there was a bear issue around Estes Park. The campground we stayed at just had big dumpsters, not the kind of containers I would associate with a bear area. That must have been fun to see them in your yard!

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