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Unusual grizzly sightings in polar-bear country
Anchorage Daily News


August 30, 2006

BARROW, Alaska -- Shotgun-toting guards who scan the Arctic Ocean for white polar bears spent last week looking for a brown mass of fur on the reddening tundra surrounding this Inupiat village.

The grizzly, a threat to anglers and backcountry hikers across much of Alaska, isn't a problem here. Usually.

They're rarely spotted this far north.

But two brown-bear sightings recently put some residents on edge and prompted managers at a research area east of the village to evacuate scientists doing fieldwork on the tundra.



Polar bears, which top 1,000 pounds, commonly wander through the village of 4,200.

But more frightening, many residents say, is the smaller tundra grizzly. It's more likely to attack, they say.

The brown-bear sightings this month occurred at least seven miles from town. And the bear - it's probably the same one in both sightings - never approached scientists.

But Barrow residents are extra-cautious around grizzlies because they don't know as much about them, said Glenn Sheehan, executive director of the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium.

"That's what makes them dangerous," Sheehan said.

The federally funded consortium, which provides lodging and field support for scientists studying the Arctic, manages the 7,466-acre research area where the bear was spotted.

The consortium wasn't taking any chances, he said. Last week, as the scientists returned to their fieldwork, sentries with slug-loaded shotguns accompanied them around the clock. And a helicopter crew searched the area from the air.

They never found the bear.

A grizzly hasn't roamed near Barrow in at least eight years, said Harry Brower Jr., a wildlife manager for the North Slope Borough.

Polar bears, on the other hand, often rove near homes, especially if the sea ice they live on is near shore. Wildlife managers once patrolled the village for polar bears, shooting exploding shells near the white giants to scare them back onto the ice.

Borough officials ended the polar-bear patrols about three years ago to save money, Brower said. Wildlife managers are now on call if people are threatened, he said.

But the science consortium still pays Alaska Natives to guard scientists from polar bears. Natives living on the coast are the only people allowed to hunt polar bears, according to federal law. Many Natives still eat polar bear.

Polar bears frighten many residents, Brower said. But grizzlies are more dangerous.

They've angered locals by demolishing fish camps over the years. Some camps are more than 75 miles from the village, where brown bears are more common.

Grizzlies will investigate humans, even if they're not hungry, Brower said.

"We don't see that with polar bears," he said.


Anchorage Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at ademarban(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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