If you are on the Kenai Peninsula north of Seward, Alaska, be careful where you hike on the Iditarod National Historic Trail.
A grizzly bear or bears could be coming for you, or worse yet, an aggressive Forest Service ranger threatening a ticket and a fine of up to $5,000 plus a possible six months in jail.
But don’t worry, it’s for your protection.
The Chugach National Forest has closed an area of about 10-square-miles along the Meridian Lakes section of the Iditarod citing “aggressive brown bear behavior.”
The federal agency’s official order offers no details on the situation, but warns “it is prohibited to go into or be upon the area…until July 1.”
A post on the agency’s Facebook page on June 15 warned hikers to “use caution when around (the) Meridian Lakes (Grayling Lake) Trail area of the forest. An aggressive brown bear with cub has been seen in the area. The bear may potentially be on an animal kill. The trail is in the process of being closed.”
The Grayling Lake Trail is in the middle of the closed area. It is unclear whether the bear killed a moose in the area or found the carcass of a winter-killed moose, or whether the report involves a sow threatening someone she thought got too close to a cub.
There have been no reports of a bear attack in the area.
A couple dozen cyclists entered in this weekend’s Kenai 250 bikepacking race have been warned of the situation. The race route skirts the closed area on trails just to the east and to the west.
How the Forest Service decided the bear is a threat far to the north and south of the Grayling Lake Trail is unclear. When bears kill a moose or other animal, they usually do not stray from it but remain in the area to defend their food source against scavengers.
Aggressive grizzlies are not unusual in Alaska. Most grizzly sows with cubs are inherently aggressive when they think people are close enough to pose a threat to their cubs.
And grizzlies of either sex will aggressively defend the carcass of a dead moose, mountain goat or other big-game animals whether they have discovered it dead as carrion or killed it. In the world of bears, meat is a high-value protein source early in the summer before the salmon arrive and for that reason worth protecting.
While posting detailed maps of the closed area, Forest Supervisor Jeff Schramm provided no information as to exactly what the situation is with this bear or bears, or what might have transpired to cause the closure.
Schramm is in his first year as supervisor of the 5.4-million-acre, largely wild forest that blankets the eastern Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. Schramm has spent most of his Forest Service career in Utah.
There has not been a confirmed grizzly bear sighting in Utah since 1923, although there is talk of reintroducing the species. Grizzly bears are common throughout the Chugach.
Oh Craig, you’re always so superior in your attitude. So, let’s begin with your jumping on the current anti-law enforcement band-wagon (in any shape or form), to write this: “A grizzly bear or bears could be coming for you, or worse yet, an aggressive Forest Service ranger threatening a ticket and a fine of up to $5,000 plus a possible six months in jail.” So cute, Craig. Yes, the “problem” here is a possible citation from a “Forest Ranger” (Sure, you were only joking). First of all, if you knew as much about the great outdoors and the agencies that manage portions of them as you think you do, you would know that “Forest Rangers” are the top administrators of any National Forest unit. They are NOT the law enforcement officers in the field for the USFS. Those people are called Law Enforcement Officers. But I’m sure those details bore you. After all, you are the outdoors expert. Then, you find it in your heart to disrespect the new Ranger (administrator) for the Chugach National Forest in your not-so-subtle jab about coming from Utah, which hasn’t had a brown bear sighting since…..(who cares?) as if that negates an administrator’s knowledge, experience or responsibility to warn the public about a real hazard on a public trail for which he/she has responsibility. Mocking people – I wonder where that popular tactic these days comes from? And finally, Craig, your fan and commenter above – “Dread Pirate” is upset because he (she?) thinks the Forest Service is trashing his/her “rights” for warning hikers about an aggressive brown bear on a popular hiking trail. Jesus Christ. MAGA.
Great service you provide, Craig.
First off, thanks for the heads up. I was using the term “ranger’ as it has been generically and historically applied to Forest Service field employees. I had forgotten that the National Forest System Drug Control Act of 1986 led to the creation of a distinct law enforcement officer section within the agency.
I was going to correct the story, but then I read it and noted it said you could be threatened by a ranger. I don’t think that’s inaccurate. It is likely if not probable that a ranger encountering someone on the trail and deciding they should not be there would tell them to go home or “I will call a Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer to cite you.”
As for the rest of this, I didn’t disrespect anyone. I reported some facts. Your bluster here would appear to indicate you think facts are disrespectful.
I don’t. They are simply facts.
Clearly where we differ is on the issue of public information. I do believe that when the government in a democracy takes action to close public lands to the public it should explain the reasons for such action. That there might possibly be a possibly aggressive bear out there that might be on a possible kill is not an adequate explanation.
Such an explanation would suffice to close almost every trail in the state today because all of them might possibly have a possibly aggressive bear on a possible kill.
As a former Alaska Wildlife Trooper, I understand you have a different view on public information. It appears to be the view that “we’ll tell you what we think you need to know and not one thing more.” That’s fine.
My view is somewhat different. I think the public has the right to know if actions are being taken on the basis of that rule and form their own opinion as to whether that is good or bad. I’m sure some will be happy the Forest Service closed the trail because there maybe coulda, mighta, woulda been a dangerous bear, and some will likely be chagrined.
And let’s be clear here, what the Forest Service did was not a “warning.” It was legal order closing the trail underlined with the threat of legal action. I can’t imagine anyone would have a problem with the Forest Service posting warnings.
I certainly wouldn’t. I don’t have any trouble with the Forest Service closing the trail, for that matter, or threatening to bust people who hike it to save them from themselves. I do, however, think it is something about which Alaskans should be aware, and in which – as citizens of a democracy – they should have some say.
Threatening to prosecute people in the name of protecting them from themselves is a marshall law move usually reserved for floods and fires. Does your “knowledge, experience or responsibility” say to you that this situation – given the unknowns – was so dangerous it rose to this level?
Meanwhile, I admit I am left with a question: How exactly does one obtain knowledge and experience without doing the job?
This was a decision made by a rookie forest supervisor with little experience in-country. If he’s going to close Chugach National Forest trails every time someone claims to have had an encounter with what they claim was an “aggressive” bear, how many trails will we have open in the summer?
For many people, a bear that stands in the trail looking at them trying to figure out what they are is an aggressive bear. I have run into more than a few of these badly rattled people on Alaska trails who described how they were “almost mauled” by a bear.
In talking to them, the reality usually turned to be that in most cases they encountered a bear and in a couple cases were bluff charged. I distinctly remember talking to one couple who were convinced they were “almost killed” by a sow black bear with cubs.
The well-documented history of sow black bears with cubs is that their charges are almost always a bluff. There are three exceptions in the past 109 years, and there have been thousands if not tens of thousands of black bear sows that have charged people over those years. Many hundreds of thousands. https://bear.org/what-does-steve-herrero-say-about-mothers-defending-cubs/
Meanwhile, the history of predatory black bears is that they don’t charge. They sneak up on you and pounce. I’m not even sure most people would recognize what a predatory approach by a black bear looks like.
But there I am being all “outdoors expert” again. I do not claim that title, but after a career as the “outdoor editor” at the Anchorage Daily News back when newspapers meant something I did acquire some of that knowledge and experience to which you refer.
CM: “How the Forest Service decided the bear is a threat far to the north and south of the Grayling Lake Trail is unclear.”
BA: Just curious: As a journalist, did you ask them?
CM: “Your bluster here would appear to indicate you think facts are disrespectful.”
BA: The opposite is true. See above.
CM: “It appears to be the view that “we’ll tell you what we think you need to know and not one thing more.” That’s fine.
BA: If that were true, it wouldn’t be fine. The opposite is true.
In 40 years of working with a variety of professionals in various land/wildlife management agencies including the USFS, NPS, BLM (Bureau of Land Management, not the other BLM), ADF&G, as well as those agencies in Utah, there is one theme that runs through all of their efforts to try to manage people/wildlife/wildlands as per their own mandates: You are damned if you do, and you are damned if you don’t. Specifically, I remember one USFS LEO recounting how often the agency has to defend itself (and often pays huge settlements to BS lawsuits) when people ignore warning signs, step over barriers at a cliff, fall off and die, and then the family sues because there weren’t enough signs, or the fences weren’t high enough, or ‘who knew the geysers at Yellowstone are hot water?’ and on and on. So, it’s not surprising that wildland managers err on the side of caution. Overkill? Probably in some cases. But considering how most people ignore warning signs, closures, good advice, common sense, rules, regulations and actual laws anyway, what do these administrators have to lose?
Actually, I’m still waiting on the call back from the person who muzzled one of the people most likely to know what happened on that trail, and that was a week ago.
But nobody should have to ask them. If they’re doing something like this, there is an obligation to explain why. This is, in case you’re not aware, a democracy. These are public lands, not the king’s property.
And the erring on the side of caution creates its own problems. It is a legal slippery slope. Once you start closing, you increase your liability for closing. I hadn’t thought about this at the time, but it is something of a dangerous precedent. The FS might now need to start closing any trail at the mention of the word bear to avoid liability.
That said, the courts have in general become a lot less tolerant of these nonsense cases in recent years.
The Virginia appeals court granted the Forest Service immunity from a bunch of these sorts of claims. https://cases.justia.com/federal/appellate-courts/ca5/16-60062/16-60062-2017-03-22.pdf?ts=1490225432
Lastly, sense is not common. Sense is learned from experience.
Hopefully somebody told the bear…
If they did it could be a lot smaller area.
Ranger Skram: “Hey bear, don’t go out of this 100 square yard area where your moose kill is.”
Bear: “Ok boo-boo”
First i have to say the feds shouldn’t be administering land in alaska . Total violation of state rights. Second a person from out of state with minimal bear experience should not Be imposing their tyrannical opinion on alaskans right to be eaten if they so choose . We dont need saved . We need freedom to live or die unhindered by arbitrary regulation. So now it’s justifiable to shut down alaska because bears are hungry and angry? Impressive idiocy. Dont let anyone swim in the ocean – hungry sharks . Whats next ? Its slippery outside— impose a stay inside order . Oooh its for public safety – believe big brother. Total distortion of law. I say dont comply and dont set a precedent of compliance. Let freedom ring !!!!! Temper it with responsibility and common sense.
There are aggressive bears all over the Kenai.
Interesting.. bit surprising. One can only suspect there is an unusual amount of protein along the Meridian. It does stink they leave one guessing. I would think a little more information would go a long way in mental prep for hiking in that area, whether after July 1st or anytime for that matter.