Brown bear injures 3 on trail near Eagle River Campground

Saturday, June 24, 2017 - 11:30
  • A sign posted at the beginning of the trail where a bear attack occurred Wednesday, June 14, announcing the closure of the trail due to the presence of a brown bear that may have been wounded during an encounter with Anchorage police. Police said three juveniles were injured when they encountered a brown bear with two cubs on the trail, which is near a popular campground near Eagle River, Alaska. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A sign warning people about bears is one of many placed throughout the Eagle River Campground. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A sign warning people about bears is one of many placed throughout the Eagle River Campground. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • A newspaper box at the Eagle River Campground. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)
  • The Eagle River campground near Eagle River. (Star photo by Matt Tunseth)

UPDATE (June 14, 9 p.m.): A sign has been posted in the Eagle River Campground at the head of the trail where a brown bear attack occurred today stating the trail is closed for a week due to an injured bear. “Wounded bear. Sow with cubs. Closed 1 week for patrols” reads the sign, which was attached to a large wooden sawhorse blocking the trail.

ORIGINAL STORY:

A brown bear injured three people near the Eagle River Campground Wednesday.

According to the Anchorage Police Department and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, three “young adults” and one juvenile were hiking on a trail near the riverside campground when three “were injured by a grizzly with two cubs.” According to police, two adults and one juvenile were injured.

The specifics of the attack were unclear Wednesday as biologists investigated.

APD said the hikers scattered as some went for help, which led to an apparently chaotic scene as emergency responders arrived en masse at the normally quiet campground. Police said it took about a half hour for emergency personnel to locate all three injured hikers and transport them to the hospital.

Authorities didn’t have any information about the ages of the hikers or their injuries, only saying they were juveniles.

While police were searching for the hikers, they themselves were charged by the bear. Officers fired at the sow, but it ran off into the woods. APD said the status of the bear and the two cubs remained unknown Wednesday afternoon.

“Area residents are asked to use an abundance of caution as both moose and bears have new babies this time of year,” the department said in an online statement about the attack.

Gathering information

Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh was at the campground Wednesday afternoon as biologists and police tried to gather information about the latest confrontation between bears and humans in Eagle River. Marsh said biologists were combing the woods near the campground to see if they could locate the bear or her cubs.

“APD responded first. They encountered the sow, apparently it was acting aggresively toward them — maybe it charged, I’m not sure of the [specifics] on that — but they fired a couple shots at the bear,” he said. “They don’t know if they hit it, so right now we have staff in the field investigating that to see if the sow was hit.”

Marsh said that if the bear is found, it won’t necessarily be killed. That’s because the circumstances of the attack are still murky, and the bear could have been simply acting out of a desire to protect its cubs.

“This could be a situation where the hikers encountered the animal at close range, surprised it, it was just reacting to defend the cubs and it may just be trying to go back into the park and disappear,” Marsh said. “If that’s the case, there’s a good likelihood it’s a one time event and we’d just let it go.”

Located inside Chugach State Park and managed by Lifetime Adventures, the campground was mostly empty Wednesday, with most drive-in spots left unoccupied. The area is a popular weekend getaway for campers from Anchorage, who can find a genuine wilderness destination that’s literally a stone’s throw from the Glenn Highway. The heavily wooded campground with 57 campsites (and 10 overflow spots) is well known for its bears, and numerous signs throughout the area warn of the potential for bruins to be in the area. In addition to the warning signs, the campground is also equipped with food storage lock boxes to keep bears from getting into campers’ coolers.

Bears, bears, bears

The attack is the latest in several close encounters between bears and humans in Eagle River. Last week, a brown bear was struck and killed on the Glenn Highway near Birchwood. On Monday, a black bear was reportedly shot and killed in a neighborhood off Old Eagle River Road; and Tuesday morning, a brown bear was reportedly shot and killed by a homeowner after it tried to get into a chicken coop at a residence off Hiland Road.

Marsh said he doesn’t think there’s any more bears in the area than any other spring.

“It seems like everything just kinda happened at once,” he said. “I don’t think there’s necessarily more bears here than there normally is.”

He said springime is when the animals are active and often come into contact with people.

“This time of year bears tend to descend from the mountain into the lower areas to feed on moose calves, to look for fish in the streams if they start to arrive,” he said.

People can minimize the danger by property storing trash, pet food and other attractants.

“If there’s trash or human supplied food that’ll keep ‘em hanging around, too,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s more bears than normal, it’s just there happens to be a lot of things happening right now.”

“This is their home”

By 2:30 p.m., police officers had abandoned their search and cleared out of the campground as things returned pretty much to normal. At one campsite, a two kids played in a tree while their mother kept a close watch; at another, a couple unloaded their car after only recently arriving at their campsite. Neither seemed overly concerned about the attack after being informed about it by a reporter.

At another site, campers Rick and Valencia Adams said they picked the campground about 15 minutes from Anchorage for its solitude.

“It was close and seemed to be peaceful — at the time,” said Rick Adams.

The couple had only recenlty returned from a day trip to Eklutna Lake when the Eagle River Campground was flooeded with emergency vehicles — which they later learned were due to the bear attack.

Rick Adams said they had skipped a hike Tuesday on the same trail where Wednesday’s maulings occurred after seeing fresh bear sign on the trail.

“Yesterday we saw a big pile of poop,” he said.

Despite that, the sound of the river nearby helped the couple get a great night’s sleep Tuesday.

“The river is what we really wanted,” he said. “We hear traffic constantly so we came out here for some peace and quiet.”

Adams admitted Wednesday’s commotion was a bit unsettling.

“I’m probably going to have a harder time sleeping tonight,” he said.

Wrapped in a sleeping bag and nestled in a hammock tied to two trees, Valencia Adams read a book Wednesday afternoon. She said the bear attack had her a bit concerned — but not so much to keep her from relaxing.

“This is their home,” she said. “We’re the guests here.”

CORRECTION: This story was corrected on Thursday, June 15, after the Anchorage Police Department sent a public information message correcting its original erroneous statement about the ages of the victims. The department did not provide ages for the victims and said no further information will be relased to the public.

Contact Star editor Matt Tunseth at editor@alaskastar.com

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