SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Wild Kingdom: Ketchikan Style
By Dave Kiffer


July 28, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - There was a wee bit of a traffic jam on the Third Avenue bypass a week ago.

I know because I was at the tail end of it.

Since I was running late - and since I am not a patient, laid back driver - I uttered a few trenchant observations about the heritage of the driver at the front of the snarl. And, no, my big-eared, five-year-old son was not with me at the time.

Then I discovered the reason for the tangle. Three deer were going back and forth across the road. This was causing the drivers to slow down and rubberneck. After a few minutes, the deer got tired of slaloming the cars and bounded (deer always bound) into the woods. Traffic returned to normal.

jpg sitka black-tailed deer

Sitka Black-tailed Deer
Photograph by Ketchikan photographer Jim Lewis ©2006

This was the third time that I had seen deer on the bypass this year. A friend reports that she saw a wolf on the bypass one morning this spring.

I suspect that the proximity to town of wolves might be part of the reason that we've seen more deer around this year than last. At any rate, come August 1 (and hunting season) we won't be seeing that many hooved ungulates roaming the local byways.

But the recent sightings are just a quick reminder that ­ for all the civilizing attributes of our fair city ­ we remain a outpost at the edge of the wild.

And to be honest I like the fact that a small herd of deer is still enough to cause us to stop and gawk.

We lost interest in the plethora of bald eagles around here years ago. So much so that we smirk at the visitors who gather and point at the "National Birds" that we don't even notice anymore.

jpg eagle

Photograph by Ketchikan photographer Carl Thompson ©

"National Scavengers" we retort. We find them about as interesting as the pigeons scarfing popcorn downtown. And yes I did see a "noble" bald eagle picking away at the popcorn in the Redman parking lot next to the Coliseum Theater one afternoon.

We also don't give much mind to the ravens either, unless we catch one in our trash. On the other hand, folks goo-goo and gawk at hummingbirds and other migratory species that are just passing through. And don't get me started on how excited people around here are to see owls. Go figure.

Bears are another animal that always inspire interest. Maybe because they could ­ if they chose to ­ eat us. Nothing else in the woods ­ save a random pack of wolves ­ really spells danger like a bear encounter. Never mind the fact that nearly all black bear encounters around here involve a quick glimpse of a bear behind bounding away into the brush. It's the possibility of something worse that perks up our adrenalin.

One evening ­ not long after we moved into our new house a few years ago ­ we looked up to see a 300 pound Blackie on our deck, staring in at us through the sliding glass door. We watched. He watched. Finally, I rose up out of my chair and he quickly exited down the deck steps and back into the woods. A few days later, he - I assume - spread our trash all over the street. Everyone's a critic.

That brings to mind a story - possibly apocryphal - that a bear once broke into a local politically active attorney's house and had a bowel movement all over his desk. Must have been a conservative bear.

jpg Black Bear

Black Bear
Photo by Ketchikan photographer Jim Lewis ©

But it also reminded me that a friend who lives in Forest Park once came home to find a bear actually reaching through a kitchen window to get at some food on the counter. No matter how much we "Disney-ize" these cute woodland creatures, it doesn't make them less wild. Just less leery of us.

We haven't seen our neighborhood garbage bear for a couple of years, but we know he's there because every summer at least one neighbor forgets to properly handle their garbage and he decorates a nearby hillside.

Our current garbage bear apparently likes melons. One time he tipped over a trash can and that was all he ate.

When we lived on Millar Street several years ago, the neighborhood garbage bear had a sweet tooth. You could leave your trash out all night and he wouldn't touch it. Unless you had thrown away cake or ice cream. He - or she - really loved ice cream.

I know this because I woke one night to a "snorfing" sound outside our house and peered out the window to see the bear on our back porch with a large ice cream container on its head.

jpg ducklings

Photo by Ketchikan photographer Jodi Muzzana ©

But catching a bear on your porch usually means getting up around 3 a.m. Locals are more likely to drive out to Herring Cove just to watch the bears cavort in the water and chase the returning salmon. One time, we watched as a mother bear scooped two salmon out of the creek and plopped them down in front of her cubs on the bank. My wife called it a "National Geographic" moment.

Last week, we dropped by Power House Road to see if there were any bears about. We saw one wandering around the hatchery buildings but he was a long ways off. A dog barked but that didn't mean any thing.

As we started to drive back across the Herring Cove bridge, we saw a mother bear and cub ambling up the hillside toward the spot where we had been standing a minute before. One of the neighborhood dogs was trying to turn itself into a bear snack but the mother bear was fortunately ignoring him.

These are the sort of things that 800,000 people come to Ketchikan every year to see and to us they are often barely worth a second glance. Probably the same way that folks in New York City don't even notice when another pedestrian gets mugged.

Of course, we do love our baby animals. A walk around Ward Lake or Bar Harbor is not complete unless mother ducks and ducklings are spotted. When they are we immediately violate the laws of nature ­ and the wildlife wardens - by tossing whatever food we have in their direction. Sure, Doritos are probably not the best thing to be feeding baby mallards, but that doesn't stop us.

And that feeding is - perhaps sadly - appreciated by the animals. I was at a birthday party at Ward Lake last week and I was noticing that the ducks were a little more skittish than usual and were generally keeping away from the beach while the party was going on.

They kept their distance until "Happy Birthday" was being sung. Then I noticed them waddling rapidly up the beach toward the picnic shelter. I suspect they wanted cake, but they ended up with more Doritos instead.

Pablov would have been pleased.



Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2006

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