Welcome to bear country

Eagle River is ground zero for spate of bruin encounters


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A warning sign and barricade warn hikers to stay away from a trail alongside Eagle River at the Eagle River Campground. The trail, which runs along the south bank of the river and heads upstream, was the site of a brown bear attack that injured a North Kenai woman on June 11. The trail has been closed until further notice.

MATT TUNSETH

Eagle River is having a bear of a summer.

Already this year, two people have been attacked by brown bears in this community, while a third attack near Bird Creek involved an Eagle River man out for an early-morning hike.

“It is an unusual number,” said Dave Battle, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The string of Eagle River-related attacks continued on June 11, when a woman from North Kenai suffered leg injuries in a brown bear attack near the Eagle River Campground. That attack prompted wildlife officials to close the area where she was attacked, a narrow, winding trail that departs from the campground along the Eagle River’s south bank.

In May, Eagle River attorney Howard Meyer was attacked on his wooded Eagle River Valley property by a brown bear that was later found to have been defending a moose carcass. Earlier this month, Eagle River’s Ben Radakovich was hurt after encountering a bear on the Penguin Creek Trail near Bird Creek, about 20 miles south of Anchorage.

All three mauling victims were injured, but are expected to make full recoveries.

“Fortunately, it’s not been quite as serious and less-threatening injuries,” Battle said.

Battle said all three victims were lucky to escape with their lives.

“Every brown bear mauling is taken very seriously,” he said.

There’s a simple reason why Eagle River is a hotbed of bear activity.

“There’s just a lot of bears and a lot of people there,” he said.

Battle doesn’t think there’s any more bears roaming around than usual. If anything, he speculated that an overall increase in outdoor recreation by humans might be putting more people in bear country.

“Some of the outdoor recreation trends probably have changed in the past few years,” he said.

The Eagle River Campground attack didn’t deter throngs of campers from visiting the popular park near the Glenn Highway in Eagle River over the weekend. Jessica and Bryan McInnis, of Fairbanks, said they stopped at the campground for a weekend getaway and found they had to share the area with more than just their fellow campers.

“We saw a bear last night,” Jennifer said as the couple packed up their tent and camping gear near the river.

She said the couple was putting their food away in their vehicle for the night when a small, curious black bear came within a few yards of camp.

“I was pretty psyched to see one actually,” Bryan said.

Other campers who visited the campground shared similar stories.

ADFG’s Dave Battle said it’s important to remember bear safety basics when traveling in bear country — which includes virtually all of Chugiak-Eagle River.

“Carry bear spray with you and don’t ever run from a bear,” he said.

McInnis said two of the three recent attacks involved people who turned to run from brown bears. That’s the exact opposite of what you should do.

“Talk to it, raise your arms over your head,” he advised.

Battle said anyone who encounters an aggressive bear or spots a bruin near campgrounds should contact authorities such as Anchorage Police, Alaska Department of Fish and Game or Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

“We do want to hear about it,” he said.

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com

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