Commentary

Life with bear(s)

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The little bear had found his personal patch of heaven, a field of horsetail and dandelions. Favored black bear foods both.

Unfortunately, this bear’s wild garden was growing along our road home. Somebody was going to have to move.

When first spotted, the little guy looked to be bedded down to sleep, but as we got closer, it became clear he was sitting down, sometimes laying down, gorging himself.

Lars stayed close to my knee and silent. Lars does not like bears.

I yelled at the bear. Wild black bears tend to be timid and docile creatures that run away when berated by humans. This one didn’t react at all. It didn’t even look up.

I looked around to see if mom was in the area. This was no cub, but 100-pound bears can sometimes be found still hanging around with a sow. There was no sign of another bear.

I yelled some more. The bear paid no attention.  Didn’t look up. Didn’t move from its position. It was impossible to avoid wondering if it was injured, but injured or not, it needed to move.

The road was about 10-feet wide. If I’d had a baseball bat, I would have just walked on past at that distance. I wasn’t worried about being seriously injured by a bear so small, but it would be embarrassing to get bit or scratched.

A primitive weapon to remind a curious or foolhardy young bear why people are not to be messed with seemed a sensible idea. But there wasn’t even a good size stick to be had.

So I told Lars to sit and stay, went looking for a rock and winged it at the bear. The rock landed short and bounced through the horsetail. The bear watched the rock bounce. It didn’t bother to look at us.

I threw another rock. It went to the right of the bear and bounced down the road. The bear turned its head to follow the bouncing rock.

This was getting ridiculous. Eventually, though, I managed to bounce a rock off the bear’s side. At that, he got up, walked into the road, and stared at us like we were troublesome pests.

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Lars, who was still sitting patiently waiting for me to resolve the situation, offered a WTF look. The bear strolled down the road 20 feet or so, and then turned around and started walking toward us.

I yelled again, and the bear stopped. I yelled again, and the bear did nothing.

The way this bear was acting, the thought popped into my head that if it had a had a long tail it would be wagging as if this were an oversize black Labrador clone of Lars. One could have thought the bear just wanted to be friends.

Maybe he did, but making friends with the bears is never a good thing. It encourages them to approach other people, and a lot of people freak out when approached by bears. As a result, such bears tend to get shot.

I threw several more rocks at the bear, missing every time. He seemed to enjoy watching the rocks bounce down the road. I was failing miserably at teaching this bear that people are trouble, and that was a lesson he needed to learn.

As bold as this bear acted, it seemed that unless he learned that lesson it was only a matter of time before he’d be down the hill and into neighborhood garbage that neighbors aren’t always so polite as to wait until the morning of garbage day to put out.

And that would be the end of him.

As the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says, “a fed bear is a dead bear.” Bears become quickly addicted to garbage because humans are ridiculously wasteful with food.

Once addicted, the bears are as big a problem as any other addicts. The big difference is that addicted bears end up getting a death sentence after getting into trouble only a few times.

So I threw another rock. This one bounced off the bears side with a mild thump, and he finally turned and walked over the hill beside the road and disappeared out of sight.

“C’mon, let’s go,” I said to Lars, and we went down the road 30 yards to the junction to the Bonnie Trail to home. When I turned to look back before dropping over the hill myself, the bear was back in the road.

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Thirty years ago, bears were rare in our neighborhood 1,000 feet above Potter Marsh. Now we can be sitting on the deck watching the tides of Turnagain Arm at midday when a bear decides to investigate the gear shed.

This year it has been black bears. That generally means there are no grizzly bears prowling the neighborhood. The black bears get very skittish when there are grizzly’s in the ‘hood.

They have been everything but skittish. We have taken to checking the yard before letting the dogs out to relieve themselves in the mornings.

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Whether it is better to have the black bears or grizzlies around is debatable. Black bears are certainly less dangerous.

I’ve chased them out of the yard with a broom. I wouldn’t want to try that with a grizzly.

But the grizzlies tend to be far more secretive. Few people saw the one who roamed the valley for a month or so about this time back in 2016 even though he was a cold-blooded killer and a good one.

All most people ever saw was bear scat containing the hooves of moose calves. That was all that was left of them after the bear got done snacking.

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Sean Farley, a bear biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and I have had regular discussions about whether there are more bears in Anchorage now than in the 1980s.

He isn’t sure. Bears are hard to census, and he makes a good argument that people see more bears now because of improved sightability. Anchorage has grown considerably over the past 40 years.

A lot of forest has been cleared to be replaced by houses and lawns. Where once it was hard to see a bear 20 feet away in an alder tangle, it is now easy to spot the same animal 200 yards away in the middle of someone’s lawn.

That’s true enough, but one doesn’t necessarily need to see the bears to know they are there. It’s pretty obvious in the small corner of the Anchorage Hillside that I’ve wandered regularly for 30 years, there are more bears.

Not only was it once rare to see bears; it was uncommon to see bear scat or other sign. Now it’s not uncommon to find bear scat in your driveway.

The less traveled trails up valley never showed any sign of bear use back in the day; now it is rare when they don’t show sign of bear use.

In the 1980s into the 1990s, I ran those trails almost every day and never had an encounter with a bear, let alone an encounter that forced me to detour around a bear or drive one off.

In recent years, I’ve regularly had to detour around bears or push them off the least used trails in the neighborhood. Some neighbors have simply stopped going into the woods; the bears scare them too much.

Not that having bears around is a bad thing. It’s always neat to see wildlife. But it does get a little old at times having to be always on high alert, and the bears can  sometimes be pests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 replies »

  1. 100 pound Black Bears can be harder to deal with than some might think. Many years ago a young lawyer, Steve R. was tying his float plane to a tree on Cow Lake next to Rolly Joe. A black bear he estimated to be around 100# attacked him. The battle eventually went to the deeper water where Steve by splashing the bear’s face gave his wife time to start the airplane engine which scared the Bear off. Steve was in very good condition, about 6’ 2”, strong and a good swimmer. He will candidly tell you that he was just about ready to give up because of the injuries caused by bear’s claws and teeth. He was helicoptered to Providence where over a thousand stiches were put in him. He said the strength and endurance of that “ little bear was unbelievable and had it not been for the engine noise he would have been a goner.
    You might also remember what happened at Liard River Hot Springs many years ago. A woman and at least one man were killed by a Black bear described to be “poor” and estimated to be a little over 100 pounds.
    A baseball bat might be enough but I would feel more comfortable with some fire power.

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  2. Had a black bear on my back deck Wednesday night, very end of Klatt Road. Second time in 15 years. Seem to be more moose than usual, too.

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    • Only once did my dogs encounter a black bear (in Juneau) that didn’t run and they both came back with their tails between their legs. Had another dog that was charging a bear that was charging us while I was running for the cabin (near Minto). I heard a bellow (from the bear) that may have been when the dog and it came together-turned out that bear had a small cub up a tree and when I stopped yelling at it she calmed right down. That dog didn’t want anything else to do with that bear and I suspect he got a good feeling for being outclassed (wish I could have seen just how they came together).
      Those two dogs that were killed were with a family here on vacation and not sure where they were from. That situation clearly went sideways, in a hurry, but it appears both dogs didn’t suffer much and were removed from the genepool.

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  3. Approximately two weeks ago, in Juneau, a black bear killed two aggressive dogs that didn’t show enough respect to avoid a bear that didn’t run. According to the witness, the bear killed both animals (collie and another medium sized mix) in short order by swatting one and grabbing the other by the neck and slamming it down near the end of Montana Creek Trail.
    This was an unusual occurrence here, as dogs are everywhere on the trails along with black bears. People were concerned and many no doubt took to leashing their dogs but I suspect that will not last long. And this bear was exonerated as only defending itself as the dogs were the clear aggressors.

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  4. Where can funds be found for another bear census? I’d say there are more bears. My thought for years was that the more people use trails on the outskirts of town and along greenbelts etc, they will spot more bears. But it just feels like there are more bears.

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  5. On Monday morning, some black bears came through our neighborhood, Turnagain-Spenard, between No. Lights Blvd and the Coastal Trail. My wife saw & photographed one which toured our street and nearby streets and who knows where else. Not long afterward there was a post on the Turnagain North social-media network that someone had seen “three, maybe four black bears” at the end of Chiligan Drive and posted photos of at least two of the bears. This is remarkable. It’s also proof that we, like Craig and others all around town, are amazingly fortunate to be able to see this. Some tourists would kill for this kind of experience. ¶ We’re close to the Coastal Trail and not all that far from Earthquake Park and the more park-y places beyond. Blackies have been seen in Kincaid Park this spring as they were last year (sow + 2 cubs). Bear “highways” are available to the animals from the Hillside right on into town. ¶ Here’s something else about the ones that visited our neighborhood the other day: They got into garbage, both on Monday and Tuesday. Anybody care to bet that some black bears are going to die in due time? We do not have bear-proof garbage containers, we’re not required to as I believe some parts of the city are. But right now, specialized trash bins seem like a very good idea.
    [PS — tried to post photos but the site wouldn’t let me.]

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