Bear reports decline as temperature drops

Monday, November 13, 2017 - 11:31

A family of bears in the Eagle River Valley may have avoided a brush with death.

In early November, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said complaints about the bruins roaming the area were causing a major concern.

“We’ve been getting complaints the last week and a half to two weeks that a sow brown bear has been getting into trash,” Ken Marsh, a public information officer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said on Wednesday, Nov. 8.

The department said the bears might have to be killed. But cold weather and less available food seems to have made the animals scarce, according to an update on the situation provided by Marsh on Monday, Nov. 13.

“We’re just hoping the colder weather has sent them heading for the hills,” he said.

Temperatures in the Valley have ranged from near zero to the mid-teens over the past week, with high temperatures remaining well below freezing.

Last week, the department sent a special message to the Anchorage School District warning of the sow and three cubs hanging out in neighborhoods on both sides of the Eagle River. The district forwarded the message to nearby schools, including Eagle River High, Fire Lake Elementary, Alpenglow Elementary, Ravenwood Elementary and Gruening Middle School.

The warning said the area where the bears have been includes neighborhoods along the river stretching from Banff Springs Street to West Parkview Terrace — an area roughly encompassing the Eagle River Valley from the Glenn Highway to Eagle River Loop.

Marsh said the department wanted parents to be aware of the bears so they could take precautions with kids walking to school.

“It could be a really dangerous situation,” Marsh said.

Reports on social media of bear activity were widespread in late October and early November, Marsh said, especially after a video surfaced of the bears getting into trash outside Eagle River High School. On Nov. 7, KTUU-TV posted video taken by Eagle River’s Margaret Cichoracki of the bears on the school grounds.

As with humans, social media stardom can come with unforeseen consequences. In this case, the bears’ increasing fame could mean they never make it to hibernation.

“This thing may have gone on a little too long,” said Marsh, who said Fish and Game biologists were in Eagle River Wednesday monitoring the situation.

The best way to reduce the chance bears or humans are harmed is to store trash and other food properly, Marsh said. That means not putting out trash until the morning of pickup, he said, and eliminating other food and waste that could attract animals. Bears typically hibernate in winter, but brown bears in particular will remain active if there’s something to eat.

“As long as brown bears have a readily available food source they’ll keep eating,” he said.

At the time, Marsh said the bears would be shot if they continued getting into garbage.

“That’s a real possibility at this point,” he said.

Marsh credited Eagle River residents with doing a better job of removing food sources for the bears to scavenge.

“It looks like many of the affected neighborhoods have cleaned up their act,” he said.

The last call to the department about the bears was Nov. 6.

“They’ll tough it out a while if there’s a readily available food source, but if you start removing that food source and it gets cold on top of it, that’s a real good way to get a bear to go to bed,” he said.

Bears are frequent visitors to Eagle River, and in June three hikers were injured during an encounter with a brown bear with cubs on a trail near the river.

Anyone who sees the bears should not approach them, but instead call Fish and Game at (907) 267-2257. The department also has an online wildlife encounter reporting system on its website. Only call 911 if there’s an emergency, he said.

Here’s the complete bulletin issued Tuesday by Fish and Game:

Eagle River Brown Bears Prompt Schools Safety Advisory

(Eagle River) – The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is aware of a brown bear sow and three cubs frequenting Eagle River neighborhoods on both sides of the river, particularly from West Parkview Terrace to Banff Springs Street. Parents who have children walking to neighborhood elementary, middle, and high schools or standing at school bus stops should take precautions including considering providing alternate transportation to schools to avoid students walking through neighborhoods in early morning or evening hours.

The bears are targeting trash. Because brown bears can be aggressive when defending food sources including trash, it is important that people avoid approaching them. Eagle River residents are asked to secure their trash indoors or in bear-resistant containers. If a bear is attracted to unsecured trash, the resident can receive a $310 citation.

The department is actively working to mitigate public safety concerns with regard to these bears. People should report any sightings to ADFG at https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=reportwildlifeencounter.main or phone 267-2257. If the bears present an immediate public safety threat, call 911 immediately.

For educational materials about bear safety, see http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=educators.wildlifesafety or visit http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.main

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