Bear traps reset after new encounters in South Fork

Wednesday, July 11, 2018 - 12:35
  • An Alaska Department of Fish and Game driver prepares to haul a bear trap up Hiland Road on Wednesday. A department spokesperson said Thursday biologists are working to trap and kill a bear believed to be responsible for a fatal attack on a hiker and a nonfatal mauling of a man searching for him Wednesday. (Matt Tunseth / Chugiak-Eagle River Star)

Bear traps have been reset and a popular trailhead closed in the South Fork Eagle River Valley after at least two more close-range encounters between humans and brown bears near where a man was killed by a bear and another was mauled last month.

According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh, the traps — which were removed at the end of June after an unsuccessful trapping effort — were reset in the valley Tuesday night.

“We’ve been getting an increasing number of reports of brown bear females with cubs in the area,” Marsh said Wednesday morning.

Officials were in the process of closing the South Fork trail in Chugach State Park on Wednesday, Marsh said. The trail will be closed until further notice on the recommendation of Fish and Game, according to Marsh and Alaska State Parks.

Marsh said a hiker on or near the South Fork trail was reportedly bluff-charged by a brown bear cub Friday, while another group of hikers in the area reportedly discharged a gun to scare off a sow with cubs Tuesday night.

“It was close enough where the hikers were uncomfortable and discharged shots,” said Marsh, who said there was no report of any bears actually being hit.

Marsh said recent DNA analysis taken from the scene of the two June maulings determined the bear that likely killed Michael Soltis, 44, and later injured volunteer searcher Paul Vasquez, 51, was a sow.

“The animal involved in both attacks was a female, what we don’t know is if it was the same female brown bear,” Marsh said.

Soltis’s body was found about a half-mile from his Hiland Road home near the road into the valley. It’s thought he left for a hike the evening of June 18. Two days later, Vasquez was with two other searchers when he reportedly put himself in between a charging brown bear and another searcher. He suffered leg injuries in the mauling but is expected to recover.

The maulings occurred near Hiland Road, which is on the opposite side of the valley from the popular South Fork trailhead. However, the popular trail is not far from the sight of the maulings: Soltis’s home can be seen from the parking lot. The trail is used to reach Eagle and Symphony lakes as well as numerous other hiking trails in Chugach State Park.

Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]

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