SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


In Alaska, you will probably meet a bear
Anchorage Daily News


November 07, 2006

CRESCENT LAKE, Alaska -- Back in the tall grass just north of the U.S. Forest Service public-use cabin here, a yard-sized excavation of sod and dirt on the edge of an old avalanche run-out told an interesting story.

Sometime during the summer, a grizzly bear had camped on a moose kill within a couple hundred yards of a popular trail that runs east from the bridge across Crescent Creek to the cabin.




The torn-up ground surrounding the now-deserted cache was littered with moose hair. Here and there a few bones remained: a rib, a chunk of scapula, some unidentifiable fragments.

Judging by the size of the body parts and the volume of hair, an adult moose had died. There is no way to know how long the bear was on the kill afterwards. But if it had taken down an adult moose, or gotten lucky and stumbled on the carcass of one killed in an avalanche, the bear would likely have been guarding the spoils for days.

Few appear to have noticed.

Although the Crescent cabin is among the most popular in the Chugach National Forest, although many non-campers troop up the 6.4-mile Crescent Creek Trail in summer to fish for grayling at the nearby outlet of the lake, there were no summer reports of problems with bears in the area.

"I haven't heard anybody complaining about any bears up there," said Jeff Selinger, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's area wildlife biologist in Soldotna.

Given what is known about Alaska grizzly bears, he added, it wouldn't be unusual for one to be camped unnoticed within a shout of a popular Kenai Peninsula trail. Though the rare bear that attacks someone on a trail always makes news, the many bears that skillfully and quietly avoid people go largely unnoticed.

"They're around, and you don't see them," he said. "Ask Sean."

Sean is Sean Farley, an Anchorage wildlife researcher for Fish and Game who has spent a couple of years following radio-collared grizzlies in and around Anchorage. His bear study is unique if for no other reason than there are no other major cities in North America that have large, functional populations of grizzlies wandering their fringes and venturing into their greenbelts.

When The Wildlife Society - the professional organization for wildlife conservationists - met in Anchorage earlier this fall, Farley summarized some of what he has learned tracking these bears. What might be most notable is the amount of time these bears spend in close proximity to people.

If you walked your dog along Rover's Run Trail in the Bureau of Land Management's Campbell Tract in east Anchorage this summer, the odds are high a grizzly had a close encounter with you - and you didn't know it.

If you rode your mountain bike from Service High School down the Tour of Anchorage Trail to Tudor Road, chances are good a grizzly bear saw or heard or smelled you - and you didn't notice.

Even if you simply ran Campbell Airstrip Road up toward Basher on a regular basis, a bear may have sensed you - while you remained unaware.

From what Farley has learned, the oddity may well be the people who do notice bears. I know a few of these people. Over the course of the summer, they reported spotting bears all over Hillside and Bicentennial parks.

The bear-spotters differed from most of us only in that they were acutely alert - versus head down, stumbling absentmindedly along the trails - or they spent a lot of time outdoors. Spend enough time out, and it is almost a given you will meet bears in and around Anchorage.

No matter how they might try to avoid us, and all indications are that is what they do, not even bears are perfect in this regard. Swirling winds can confuse the acute senses of smell and hearing that animals use the way we use our eyes, or they can simply be caught being inattentive.

Yes, animals sometimes appear to let their minds wander, too. It's understandable.

Bears most likely categorize our behaviors as we categorize theirs. They come to conclusions on what trails are heavily used and when. They appear to avoid them and travel cautiously at times when they expect people. But bears, like humans, can be inattentive.

All of this is speculation, of course, because no one can decipher what is going on in a bear's brain. But I know from personal experience that it is impossible to maintain total focus all the time, and I know from hundreds of hours of working with dogs that what is true of humans is equally true of canines.


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