Anchorage witnessed its first bear attack on Sunday, but details are sketchy.
Update: The Anchorage Police Department has yet to provide any details on what it described as a “bear attack” along the Anchorage Coastal Trail on Sunday, but a woman who saw the victim on the trail shortly after the incident said she did not appear badly hurt.
Kayla Kewan first posted her observations on the APD Facebook page and later provide a few more details via Facebook messaging.
“She looked older, maybe mid-40s,” Kewan said. “She was fine from what I saw…and she ran to her car after she got out of the cop car. I didn’t see any bandages on her.”
The trail east of Point Woronzof has now been posted with a warning sign, but there is no reason to believe anyone is any more or any less likely to encounter a bear there than in other brushy areas along Anchorage greenbelts and wildland trails.
When the Alaska Department of Fish and Game radio-collared and tracked bears in 2012 and 2013, they were found more often on the Chester Creek Trail in the heart of the city than on the Coastal Trail, but that is most likely due to researchers happening to collar a bear that had that area in its normal home range.
The bear, which was also outfitted with a video camera, was caught chasing geese and eating berries at Eastchester Lagoon, walking along Minnesota Drive, investigating a homeless camp and rummaging through a tent near Valley of the Moon Park, eating trash near the Chester Creek Sports Complex, and eating more trash in the woods along the Seward Highway not far north of the Midtown Mall.
It also ranged west and south past the popular Westchester Lagoon and onto the Coastal Trail where it cruised Fish Creek, dumped over a garbage can near Earthquake Park, ate some insects at Point Woronzof and took a stroll on down the trail.
That bear, on occasion, made it as far south as Kincaid Park where it crossed paths with another bear that ranged widely through South Anchorage and along the city’s Lower Hillside. The Hillside bear was also tracked onto the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge and regularly found visiting Fire Island just offshore.
An Anchorage Police Department patrolman turning people back from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail near Point Woronzof at around 8 p.m. said a “large black bear” had attacked a woman between there and the end of the east-west runway at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
She had already been transported to the hospital and did not appear to be seriously injured, he said.
“Large” is a relative term. Most people overestimate the size of bears, and all bears look “big” when they are attacking you.
Airport Police and officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game were reported to be in the area of the attack looking for the bear, but they could not be found.
Police department public affairs officers were off work and could not be reached. A Fish and Game spokesman reached via email said he had not yet been informed of the attack.
APD did put out an internet alert at 7:48 p.m. saying there was a bear attack, and that “the black bear was last seen in the area just west of the airport runway. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been notified. If you are in the area, please be aware and take proper precautions.”
There were no bears to be found in the area west of the airport runway at 8:15 (nor anyone hunting for bears) but that area adjacent to the city’s 1`,500-acre Kincaid Park is largely undeveloped and brushy. It is, in short, an easy place into which a bear and/or bear hunters could disappear.
On one of its “Wildlife Viewing” pages, Fish and Game says “back bears occasionally den in the (Kincaid) park, and you may see them in summer and fall. While black bears are the smallest of the North American bears, the average male adult bear can weigh up to 250 pounds. If you see one, don’t run, and never let them obtain human food.”
The actual number of bears roaming the park and surrounding area in summer is unknown, but it is not unusual for mountain bikers, runners, hikers or dog walkers who use the trails that honeycomb the park to meet bears. Usually, the animals flee after such encounters, but Fish and Game has taken to advising people to carry bear spray in case the bears don’t run.
The pepper-based, aerosol spray shot into the face of a bear has proven effective at repulsing the animals, though black bears can sometimes be persistent. Canadian biologist Rob Foster tells a harrowing tale of being pursued by and repeatedly spraying a black bear in a remote corner of Ontario in 2013.
To save on his fading supply of spray, he sometimes took to charging the bear aggressively while screaming, waving his arms and threatening the animal with the spray can as if he was again going to blast it.
What sparked the attack on the Coastal Trail on Sunday remains unknown.
How people behave can make bear attacks more or less likely. In one famous incident on the popular Eagle River Trail north of Anchorage, a hiker ran into a black bear that fled and climbed a tree. The hiker, having read that the thing to do in a bear encounter is play dead, played dead.
The bear then climbed down from the tree and nipped the hiker, who screamed. That sent the bear running for the hills.
Playing dead around black bears is not recommended. They should be aggressively confronted.
Grizzly bears are a different matter, especially grizzly bear sows with cubs. The latter often view humans as a threat to their young and judge the best defense a good offense. The recommended action if attacked in such a situation is to play dead. The bear will unusually do what she believes necessary to neutralize the threat and leave.
Injuries can be significant, but people who curl up into a ball, link their fingers together behind their neck to protect that vulnerable area and remain as still as they can usually survive.
Black bear sows, unlike grizzly sows, almost never attack, although they will huff and puff and stomp their feet like they intend to. It is best to face down their little show until they change their mind and go on their way.
Running from either species of bear is not recommended unless there is safe shelter, say a motor vehicle or a building with doors, close by. Still, many people have run from bears and survived. Running can, in some situations, be an impulse hard to suppress, and with a sow grizzly, it might not be a bad thing as long as you are running away from and not toward her cubs.
When dealing with bears, it helps to know more about them. You can read up on the subject here: https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.main
And for those new to Anchorage, it is best to know you can meet a bear almost anywhere here, but there are some areas where you are more likely to meet bears. The city’s major parks and greenbelts, not to mention Chugach State Park, still provide good habitat for bears, and where there is good habitat for bears, there are bears unless someone shoots and kills them.
City parks near or adjacent to the half-million-acre Chugach Park are normal places to run into bears as is Kincaid and the Coastal Trial from Point Woronzof west, where it the 16-mile-long Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge that stretches all the way to Potter Marsh on the eastern edge of the city.
The upland edge of the refuge provides a natural travel corridor for bears on the prowl for food, which is what bears are pretty constantly doing during the months they are not in hibernation.