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.
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.
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.
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.
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.