Area bears make springtime debut

Thursday, June 22, 2017 - 16:18
  • A black bear examines maintenance equipment at the Eagle River Nature Center June 4, 2017. Both black and brown bears frequent Chugiak-Eagle River parks and neighborhoods. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Hikers and campers weren’t the only visitors at the Eagle River Nature Center Sunday.

While parents and kids trekked up the hill from the overflow parking lot, a black bear ambled down the road just yards away, veering off to investigate some equipment outside a nearby trail maintenance shed. Passersby continued on their ways and the bear wandered off into the woods.

Over the past few weeks, staff visitors at the Eagle River Nature Center have reported regular sightings of black and brown bears alike near the facility, which is located 12 miles up Eagle River Road in the Eagle River Valley. Bear sightings are common this time of year; Chugiak Community Council alerted locals to recent bear activity in the neighborhood with a June 1 Facebook post and at Eklutna Lake, campers are encouraged to use bear boxes and warned about frequent appearances by area black bears.

“They’re certainly out and about in the Chugiak-Eagle River area,” said Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Bordered by mountains, Cook Inlet and Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson, the Eagle River Valley is a natural thoroughfare for area wildlife, he said. Several people have been attacked in the area in recent years, with the most recent reported mauling in 2014.

When it comes to bruins, black bears are the most common in the area. So far this spring, word of sporadic brown bear sightings has trickled in via social media. According to the department, more than 250 black bears and 55 brown bears call the Anchorage area home.

In residential parts of the municipality, the omnivores can be drawn to exposed trash or other food, Marsh said. Obtaining a bear-proof trash can and keeping it inside until trash pickup day can help discourage bears from wandering neighborhoods, he said. To avoid bears along local hiking trails and in area parks, make noise and try to travel in groups.

The department hopes to gather even more information about local wildlife activity via a new, mobile phone-friendly reporting tool, Marsh said. Found on the ADFG website, the application allows Alaskans to report wildlife encounters and concerns to Fish and Game officials, describing the type of encounter and pinning it to a map.

You can find it online at www.adfg.alaska.gov. It should come in handy in Chugiak-Eagle River.

“You’ve got a lot of wildlife in those areas,” Marsh said.

Being bear aware

According to the department, the best way to avoid bear encounters in the wild is to stop them before they happen.

“Bears are naturally shy animals and prefer to avoid people,” reads the department’s online guide for dealing with bears. “Conflicts arise when they are attracted to human food or garbage or when we surprise them while out on the trail.”

The department produces a “Know your Bear Facts” brochure, which is available for download at adfg.alaska.gov. The website also includes helpful tips for staying safe around bears. Among the department’s recommendations are to give bears lots of space, make plenty of noise, don’t feed them, try not to surprise them and don’t run from them.

“You can’t outrun a bear,” writes the department. “Bears can run much faster than a sprinter and, like dogs, they will chase fleeing animals. A charging bear might come within a few feet before running off. It’s important to stand your ground.”

Bear bells and loud talking or singing are encouraged when hiking through bear country — which includes essentially all of the Chugiak-Eagle River area.

Bear spray and firearms can also be used as a last line of defense. In the event of a bear encounter, Fish and Game advises people to stay calm; talk in calm voice; wave your arms; and, if in a group, gather together to appear larger. For more information on staying safe in bear country, visit the department online or download the bear safety pamphlet at adfg.alaska.gov/static/species/livingwithwildlife/bears/pdfs/know_your_bear_facts_brochure.pdf

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected]

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