A freezer full of rotten meat dumped along an Anchorage Hillside road, a family of hungry grizzly bears, and a motorcyclist stopping to pee along the road….what could possibly go wrong?
Everything, but fortunately no one was seriously injured or killed, according to reports from residents along Canyon Road high above Alaska’s largest city on the edge of the wild, half-million-acre Chugach State Park.
The motorcyclist was charged by the bears, started shooting and escaped injury, according to area residents. The status of the bears is less clear. Chugach State Park Ranger Tom Crockett was investigating the scene Friday in an area where the locals are understandably madder than hell about the dumped freezer and dumping along the road in general.
Information was not immediately available from the Anchorage Police Department, which responded to the scene after the shooting started. Nearby resident Rob Brown said police told him they thought the bears might have been hit by gunfire, but they weren’t sure.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Wildlife Division spokesman Ken Marsh messaged his understanding that APD removed the freezer and the food, but he couldn’t provide more information.
“We’ve had our hands full today and are trying to gather information on (the Canyon Road) report,” he messaged.
The agency had its hands full dealing with a sow grizzly and two cubs wildlife officials shot and killed in the Hiland Road area of Eagle River about 10 miles to the northeast of Canyon Road.
State biologists are suspicion those bears were involved in the fatal mauling of Hiland resident Michael Soltis, 44, sometime on or before June 20, and possibly the mauling of a searcher looking for Soltis on that day although no cubs were reported spotted in the latter attack.
Wildlife officials were able to determine from DNA taken from bite marks on Soltis and the searcher that both bear attacks involved female bears.
“We’ve…received recent visual reports of at least a couple of brown bear sows using the South Fork of Eagle River,” Marsh revealed earlier this week. The South Fork, a salmon spawning stream, flows along and at one point crosses Hiland Road just north of Alaska’s largest city.
Most of the 300 to 500 king salmon that return to Eagle River in June and July spawn in the South Fork. It is a regular attraction for bears.
Bears, bears, bears
Anchorage and the surrounding area has a large and healthy populations of bears. Fish and Game has estimated the number at 250 to 350 black bears and 55 to 65 grizzly bears, but bears are notoriously hard to census.
Residents who find themselves dealing with bears regularly on the Anchorage Hillside and in Eagle River think the state count might be low.
“We’ve just seen a huge explosion of bears here,” Brown said.
Canyon Road resident Brena Doolen, a woman now in her 30s who grew up in the area, said there are noticeably more bears than when she was young. Just to the northeast of her along Hiland Road, some say the same thing.
Doolen neighbor Brown said he regularly sees bears outside his home.
He’s confident that the bears shot at near the freezer were a sow grizzly and two cubs that have been regulars along the road lately. Both he and Doolen admitted to being somewhat skeptical of the story of the motorcyclist stopping to pee along the road, which leads a trailhead for the south access to popular Flattop Mountain.
But, both agreed, there was a motorcyclist, a freezer full of rotten meat, gun shoots and a motorcyclist who said he was charged by bears.
“Yesterday (Thursday) evening about 6:20, I was outside and heard a bunch of gunshots,” Doolen said. APD arrived on the scene shortly after.
“The story is that this guy on a motorcycle stopped to pee near the freezer,” she said, “and I guess two brown bear bears charged out of the woods and he fired at them.”
She is only suspicious about the pee part. She thinks the motorcyclist might have been hanging around hoping to see bears. For every person in Anchorage nervous about meeting a bear, there seems to be one who wants to meet a bear.
And Canyon Road, which runs above Rabbit Creek, is as good a place as any to go look for bears.
“Rabbit Creek is a highway for them,” Brown said.
Brown said he’d like to talk to the motorcyclist to gather more information on whether the man thought he hit the bears, and what kind of gun he was shooting.
“I’m really worried about those bears being wounded,” said the father of two young children.
He fears a wounded bear or bears might prove more of a threat than the unwounded bears that border on becoming nuisances for some Hillside residents. The website Nextdoor now features almost daily reports from people sightings bear in neighborhoods abutting the wild, Chugach Park to the south and west.
There are grizzly bears, black bears, and black bears easily confused with grizzly bears. A couple very brown-colored, “cinnamon black bears” running around upper DeArmoun Road southeast of the city center have been mistaken as grizzly cubs by some, which immediately makes anyone familiar with bears nervous for good reason.
Grizzly sows defending cubs are the bears most likely to attack people. They don’t usually kill humans, but they can do a lot of damage in acting on their belief they need to protect their cubs by neutralizing any perceived threat.
Fish and Game warns hikers, and even road walkers in some neighborhoods, to carry bear spray just in case. There is a chance of running into a bear almost anywhere.
But it doesn’t help when someone dumps bear bait in the form of a freezer full of raw meat in your backyard.
Outrage is the only word to describe how Brown, Doolen and their neighbors feel about what happened along Canyon Road. The furniture, the tires and the rest of the “shit that gets dumped all the time” is bad, Doolen said, but it pales against a freezer full of rotting meat – a smell messy sure to attract and hold bears in the neighborhood.
There are enough problems by Canyon Road residents who don’t properly care for their garbage and allow bears to get into it, Brown said.