An attack by a grizzly bear is reported to have left an Anchorage-area man dead on a primitive trail near the popular Chugach Outdoor Center about 25 miles southeast of the city across Turnagain Arm.
Details of the attack remained sketchy on Thursday.
An Alaska State Trooper dispatch, which did not identify the man, said the agency was notified late Wednesday of the attack and the fatality.
“It was reported that a Hope resident had been clearing a trail approximately a mile behind his property which is located off of Mile 8 of the Hope Highway,” the dispatch said.
A Hope resident on Thursday questioned that report, saying he believed the victim and his family have a cabin in Hope but actually live in Girdwood, the ski resort suburb about 40 miles east of the city.
Though Hope is physically closer to Anchorage, it is on the Kenai Peninsula side of the 45-mile-long Turnagain Arm and getting there via the Alaska road system requires driving around the eastern end of the Arm, climbing over Turnagain Pass, dropping down to Six Mile Creek on the other side, and then doubling back along the south side of the Arm for a total distance of about 90 miles.
That number swells in the summer, however, when many head for the Kenai to recreate. With a bounty of creeks and trails, the area is popular with hikers, anglers, mountain bikers, campers, river rafters and more.
The Chugach Outdoor Center along the highway is a focal point for rafting on the Six Mile – a world-class, whitewater stream. There are also many trails, some of them now little used, in an area which was crawling with gold miners at the start of the Twentieth Century.
Distracted by work?
Troopers provided no details on what trail the man might have been clearing.
“His wife became concerned when he was overdue and their dog, which had been with him, returned home alone,” the dispatch said. “The body was located by family and friends in the area he had been working (with the victim) deceased with wounds consistent with a bear attack.”
Troopers said the trail was described “as not ATV (all-terrain-vehicle) accessible,” which in the area in question could be due to thick alder brush and trees, rock-strewn hillside or cliffs.
The Six Mile cuts a cleft through the Kenai Mountains as it charges toward the sea. Both Alaska Wildlife Troopers and Chugach National Forest rangers were reported to be investigating at the scene of the attack on Thursday.
Much of the land in the area is in the Chugach National Forest, but there is a cluster of private property near the old gold mining community of Sunrise just north of Chugach center.
Alaska did not witness a fatal bear attack in 2019. But two people died after being attacked by grizzly bears in 2018, and two died after being attacked by black bears in 2017.
Black bear attacks are highly uncommon. There were only 10 black-bear-associated fatalities in all of North America in the past decade and one of those deaths involved a captive bear. Of the nine fatal attacks by wild black bears, however, three took place in Alaska and four in Canada.
Canadian wildlife biologist Stephen Herrero, an established expert on bear attacks, has said the data indicates black bears living in remote areas such as Alaska and parts of Canada are more likely to attack people than bears living near or within populated areas.
And both he and Brigham Young University professor Tom Smith, who has spent years studying bears in Alaska, have said it’s wise to carry some sort of bear protection – be it pepper spray for defense against bears or a firearm – when venturing offroad in Alaska.
It is not known at this time whether the dead man was carrying any sort of protection against bears.
Grizzly bears attacks in the 49th state, unlike black bear attacks, usually happen several times per summer. The most common attacks involve grizzly bear sows with cubs who attack because they think someone got too close to their young.
Most people survive those attacks by playing dead. With the threat neutralized, a sow grizzly almost always flees with her cubs. But there have been a spate of predatory grizzly bear attacks in recent years, and wildlife authorities have begun stressing that if you are attacked by any bear that persists, you need to fight back in whatever way you can.
Others have beaten off bears with rocks or tree limbs used as clubs. Aggressive action using whatever weapon is available should always be the response to black bears that try to get too close, but greater judgment is required in dealing with grizzly/brown bear given that the aggression shown by many sows might just be aimed at protecting their young.
They have that bear’s DNA and have continued to search for her. There remains a death warrant on her head.