Wild about Eagle River

Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - 22:02

In recent years I haven’t seen as much wildlife in some parts of Chugach State Park as I did 15 or 20 years ago. But I’m not a game biologist and I don’t know enough about wildlife populations to draw any conclusions about their status. I have learned over time that generally, wild animals don’t go where people go. And Alaska has so much space that it’s not hard for the animals to find habitat that’s away from human activity.

I’ve also learned that one has to travel deep and often into the back country to see wildlife, and though in recent years I’ve been venturing out quite frequently, I haven’t been going as far — and that might be the reason for less wildlife sightings.

But there are always exceptions to the rule — my back yard, for instance. I live in Hylen Crest, which is just east of Heritage Estates subdivision, and my property abuts the mountain. I’ve only lived in this part of Eagle River for two years, and already I’ve seen more wildlife near my home than I have in many areas that I consider “wild.”

Grizzly and black bears have crossed my back yard, and most recently, a coyote and a lynx. On the mountain cliffs behind our home I’ve seen Dall sheep, and through binoculars witnessed the birth of a lamb. I’ve seen bald eagles, hawks and ravens riding the thermals on those ridges; and not far from my house, I spotted a Great Horned Owl. Red squirrels come and go.

Three doors down the street I rescued an injured Northern Saw-Whet owl. Unfortunately, despite all their efforts, the Alaska Bird Treatment and Learning Center couldn’t save the juvenile bird.

Other bird sightings either in my yard or near my home include, magpies, redpolls, chickadees, a Stellar’s jay, varied thrushes and assorted sparrows.

Earlier this summer a cow moose and two calves wandered up the street in front of my house. Just down the street last year I saw a red fox.

Considering the fact my home only occupies ½-acre within the thousands of acres of wild country adjoining my property, I’d say this amount of wildlife is quite remarkable. I haven’t yet seen a porcupine, and for the sake of my dog and others in the neighborhood, I’m thankful for that. The same applies for a wolverine.

I think it’s sometimes easy to take all of these wildlife sightings for granted. We’ll drive to work, see a moose or bear along the road, and forget to tell anyone about it.

This has been a troubling summer for human and bear interactions. It’s unfortunate that people have been injured by bears and that some bears have had to be killed. While I’m more inclined to give wild animals the benefit of the doubt and use a live-and-let live-approach, I don’t think I’d ever let wolves or bears or moose put my family at risk on my own property.

It’s easy to forget, however, that generation after generation of bears and wolves and moose lived in our area long before the first settlers arrived. With the exception of coyotes, which seem to have adapted to the human presence quite well in many U.S. states, most of our big wild animals such as moose and bear don’t like getting too close to us. But they are somehow genetically programmed to live in some of the places we live and frequent.

The Nature Center is a good example. Salmon have been coming into that area to spawn for centuries, naturally drawing in the bears. We’re certainly Johnny Come Latelys when it comes to that area-- and to protect the public each year, part of the trail is temporarily closed down. The same is true for the Rovers Run trail in Anchorage after a bicycler was attacked by a bear.

Some people argue that we’re allowing bears to dictate where we can go and when. Reflecting on the span of time bears and other creatures have lived in these areas, I think the trail closures are brief -- the blink of an eye. They are a minor inconvenience that definitely saves human lives.

Again, I’m not against protecting life and property against wild animals if the situation warrants. I just think that most of the time, we can co-exist with these wild creatures, these first inhabitants of our land.

And I never get tired of looking out the window into my back yard, wondering what I might see next.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact him on this or other stories, e-mail him at: [email protected]

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