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.
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.