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Bears take over popular Alaska fishing spot


July 31, 2006

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Bird Creek has gone to the bears.

They are roaming among fishermen, they are stealing fish, and they are drawing a crowd.

Alaska state troopers have visited the wildly popular fishing mecca almost every night for the past two weeks, responding to complaints and fears about hungry and unafraid grizzlies, said Greg Wilkinson, a trooper spokesman. The bears have been spotted from the Seward Highway bridge upstream to where the creek angles out of sight.





"And the problem is, the place is just packed with fishermen," Wilkinson said.

The 160-space parking lot at Bird Creek fills up daily. The stream teems with pink and silver salmon. It's a perfunctory 25-mile drive from Anchorage. Anglers haul in fish after fish, lining the banks at times nearly shoulder to shoulder - combat fishing in full bloom.

The bears seem to have caught on to this constant source of salmon.

And that's causing trouble.

On Wednesday night, about 9:30 p.m., witnesses said one antsy angler fired a handgun into the air to scare off three grizzlies loitering nearby. A second man took issue with the gunfire and the two adults quarreled, said Jonathan Ward, who was fishing nearby and within earshot.

"The one guy said, 'You shouldn't have done that,' " Ward said. "And the guy said, 'I have six more bullets, and one's got your name on it.' "

A trooper was called in to handle that incident, Wilkinson said. A tourist had caught the episode on tape, which the trooper reviewed, according to Ward.

It was unclear Thursday exactly what sort of citation the shooter received, but Ward, the angler, said he saw the trooper take the man's gun - and his fish.

"The guy was really angry," Ward said.

The episode sums up the chaotic man-meets-nature stew stirring at Bird Creek. You have the bears, the fishermen, and curious visitors who in the past have stopped off to fish or enjoy the view, but more and more are pulling over in hopes of seeing a real live bear.

"The parking lot is constantly packed," Wilkinson said. "We've had people stop on the bridge and get out of their car to look at the bears or take pictures of the bears. And that's bad, yes. The people are there, the bears are there, and here's my concern: If we publicize this, it's probably going to make even more people be like, 'Oh, boy, bears! Let's go see the bears!' "

Tuesday marked Drew Rigdon's first visit to Bird Creek and only his third time fishing.

Rigdon, 32, a computer systems technician at the Daily News, and his roommate started casting at high tide, about 9 p.m. Combat fishing was in force, with anglers close together along the banks.

"Two bears came down from the north, out of the woods," Rigdon said. "They first stole trash bags full of fish. Someone said they'd already took a backpack. Then the bears ran back up. Being my first time combat fishing, I was dumb enough to hang out and keep fishing. A lot of people kind of cleared away."

Rigdon had already reeled in a silver salmon - his first catch, ever. When his roommate caught one too, they decided to leave. But as they moved along the banks, the bears reappeared and cut them off.

The friends slowly retreated, along with a tourist also trapped by the grizzlies that were lumbering toward them.

"I felt sorry for the tourist," Rigdon said. "He was real nervous, saying, 'I can't believe I'm doing this.' "

A man in a ranger uniform was fishing from the opposite bank, Rigdon said. "I think he's the one who yelled at me, 'Put your fish down!' These guys were all yelling 'Drop the fish,' and I was yelling 'No!'

"But I had to drop the fish."

That pleased the grizzlies - apparently a sow and older cub - who scooped up the salmon and left.

Several bears, dozens of anglers, hundreds of passing tourists - it all worries Wilkinson.

"This has all the makings of some trouble down there," he said. "And I'd hate to see any bears come to harm. I'd hate to see any people come to harm."

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Scripps-McClatchy Western Service,

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