Alaska’s governor and Legislature are messing with the state’s beloved Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD); pandemic COVID-19 infections are “down” to a seven-day moving average about double the infection rate of a year ago at this time; and the social media buzz in the suburbs of Alaska’s largest city is all about bears.
Bears, bears, bears!
Grizzlies that venture into your yard to hunt moose calves are hard to ignore no matter whether you feel for the poor, dead calves and their distraught mothers, or for your own safety.
Three years ago, 44-year-old Eagle River resident Michael Soltis went for a hike in the mountains on the edge of Eagle River, an Anchorage bedroom community, and never returned. Searchers later found what was left of him after a family of grizzly bears singled him out as prey.
Alaskans are lucky in that bears rarely, rarely do this. Most of them run in fright at the sight of a human or sneak away quietly at the scent of one. But there remains the need for caution for safety sake for those living in a community with a healthy population of grizzlies and an even healthier population of their smaller, less aggressive cousins the black bears.
There is a reason that many people heading out the door to hike around the Anchorage Hillside now habitually grab a can of bear-repelling pepper spray, because there is no telling what kind of encounter might take place.
“Bear Swatted our Honda Pilot, left claw marks,” one Annchorage Hillside resident posted on the Nextdoor page on Tuesday. The post was complete with a photo to illustrate the damage. The rest said this:
“A brown bear sow with cub approached our Honda Pilot from the alder bushes and took a swipe at it while stopped at the stop sign near Birch and Trappers Trail Rd. It left some claw marks….Time was around 11:30 pm. The bear pursued the car briefly when the driver drove off. So, please be advised, its a good idea to have bear protection on mid-Hillside when walking. This is unusual behavior for a brown bear. Yes, I did contact ADF&G and spoke with Sean Farley & David Battle; they are aware of the event. Be careful out there!”
ADF&G is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that every June now spends a lot of time responding to bear calls.
It wasn’t always this way. Decades ago, bear that made themselves visible on the edge of the city didn’t often get much closer. But times changed. People became a lot more tolerant of bears no matter how some might fear them.
This is the peak of the annual bear fear season.
With vegetation not fully leaved out as yet, bears are easier to spot than they will be later in the year when much of Alaska grows jungle thick, and then there is that moose-calf hunting that sometimes leaves the bears more attuned to trying to kill their next meal than avoid people.
Among “Today’s Top Posts” on Nextdoor on Wednesday was this:
“Brown bear chasing momma and baby moose this morning; (bear) has two cubs.”
“Brown bears” are what coastal grizzlies are commonly called in Alaska.
“Brown and grizzly bears are classified as the same species even though there are notable differences between them,” according to ADF&G. “‘Brown bears’ “typically live along the southern coast of the state where they have access to seasonally abundant spawning salmon. The coastal areas also provide a rich array of vegetation they can use as food as well as a milder climate. This allows them to grow larger and live in higher densities than their ‘grizzly’ cousins in the northern and Interior parts of the state.”
Though different in size and diet, brown and grizzly bears also share notable similarities. Sows are known to aggressively attack anyone or anything they believe poses a threat to their cubs. Both sexes are likely to do the same to defend a cache of food. All can easily do serious damage to a human whether that is their intent or not. And wherever they live, they love the taste of moose meat if they can get it.
Over on the “Anchorage Bear Tracker” Facebook page, there was this week considerable concern about a brown/grizzly on a moose kill near the South Anchorage Target store. That would be Target as in the big-box store of the Target Corporation, the eighth largest retailer in the U.S.
“I am a little surprised it’s gone on this long,” one poster wrote there Thursday beneath a new video of a grizzly sprinting across the city’s busy C Street in front of traffic. “I would (think) (AD)F&G would take care of it by now. The kill was over last weekend, or (the) first report anyway.”
The state agency often removes moose carcasses from areas where they think the bear-attracting carrion could pose a threat to humans encounter a bear near it. The concern dates back to the the highest profile bear attack in Anchorage history, which happened about 15 miles east of the city center in July 1995 when 77-year-old Marcie Trent, her 45-year-old son Larry Waldron and grandson Art Abel, 14, stumbled upon a grizzly feasting on the carcass of a moose along the McHugh Creek Trail in Chugach State Park.
The grizzly attacked, killing both Trent and Waldron. Abel fled and survived.
Trent was a locally famous and nationally known runner. After taking up running at the age of 50, she won “nine national age-group records ranging from 800 meters to an ultramarathon, and five age world records for a female marathoner in her 60s,” the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame records.
“Trent won Fairbanks’ Equinox Marathon three times and remains its oldest champion at age 58. She also won the famous Pikes Peak Marathon at age 57 and was the first Alaskan woman over age 50 to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Marcie completed 59 marathons and 11 ultramarathons and logged more than 71,000 lifetime miles in her life. Trent was inducted into the USA Track & Field Masters Hall of Fame in 2001.”
Ever since the deaths of Trent and Waldron, Alaska’s largest city has had a love-fear relationship with its bruins. ADF&G, for its part, has policed the situation as best it can in a city where some want no bears killed ever and others want all bears kiled.
Welcome to life in the real north.