Being bear aware

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 - 19:00

Before Alaska I never had to think about wildlife in my neighborhood. Yes, there was an aggressive duck once. And one neighborhood was right on the edge of mountain lion territory, but they kept to their side of the highway and we kept to ours. All in all, my kids and my dogs could play in the yard, and my family could take walks wherever and whenever we wanted without thinking about what we might encounter.

Moving to the last frontier, I knew that we were moving to a land full of animals who would think of my neighborhood as their own. Then we drove here. The bald eagles were impressive in Haines, but after that only a fox showed himself for the rest of the drive to Anchorage. I knew we wouldn’t see any bears, as it was January and they were hibernating. However, we were told that during winter we should see many moose on the highway, as they liked walking on the plowed roads. But it was nearly a year before we saw our first live moose outside of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

The year with a lack of wildlife made me a bit nonchalant about possible animal encounters the next year. So far it seemed they didn’t frequent the same places I did. During the spring I was stir crazy and needed to get out. So I bundled up my kids and decided that we were going for a walk. After walking down a street, a neighbor saw us and hurried over.

“You shouldn’t be walking with the kids down that street. There is an injured moose and she’s really cranky.”

On our way home we ran into more neighbors warning us about the injured moose.

Before long our neighbor — who allowed my family to pick apples in his back yard — warned us not to go back therebecause a mama moose and calf had taken up residence.

However, even with all those moose I still hadn’t gotten it through my head that we lived amongst wildlife. Until the day I decided to take a shortcut on a path instead of staying by the street. The path was narrow and in many places the steep slope didn’t leave room for escape on either side. I didn’t even think about it until I ran into both bear and moose scat. I realized that the path wasn’t used just by people. For the rest of that summer I walked around with bear spray, just in case.

I will admit to not taking bear spray with me this year. Every moose encounter we had, the moose seemed content to let us hurry inside. Plus, a few neighbors said that with all the new development around us, they hadn’t seen a bear in years. Then on a walk home from a friend’s house my husband says calmly, “Honey, don’t freak out, but there is a bear over there.” There he was, a black bear just down the street from us reminding me that in Alaska we really are sharing our space.

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