Monday, January 18, 2010

No more bear maulings... That's a plus!

Quiet year for Anchorage bears after maulings of 2008

RARE: Officials had no reports of chasing or charging bruins.

Where did all the bad bruins go?

One summer after grizzlies swatted, chased and seriously mauled three people in the municipality of Anchorage, residents again this summer were hiking, biking and recreating in the great outdoors. The difference: they weren't being harassed and attacked by bears.

"I don't recall having any calls about close encounters this summer," said Rick Sinnott, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist -- the same person who got an earful last summer from city residents after three people were mauled by grizzlies, two of them while using a trail in a city park.

In a typical summer, one or two people will report they have had a close encounter with a bear in Anchorage, but not this summer, Sinnott said. Not only have there been no maulings but he hasn't received any reports of people being charged or chased by bears.

"It is a little quieter than usual," he said.

Officials don't know for sure why it was an encounter-free summer, but point to better education of humans, increased use of bear-resistant garbage cans and fewer salmon running in city streams as possible causes.

Whatever the reason, it's a lot quieter than last summer when badly behaving bears had city residents joining two emotionally charged camps: those who wanted all the bears killed and those who wanted them left alone. Most residents wanted something done but weren't sure what.

The din to do something grew after a 15-year-old girl in a bike race in Far North Bicentennial Park was mauled by a grizzly and nearly bled to death. The call to action got louder when a middle-aged runner was attacked by a grizzly on the same trail.

Residents living outside the city proper weren't immune to bad bear behavior. A man in Eagle River, about 10 miles north of Anchorage, was walking home one evening when he ended up boxing a brown bear. He was injured in the encounter but escaped with his life. Ask him and he says he won the fight.

"It was just a weird year for brown bear incidences," Sinnott said.

This summer was eerily quiet compared to last summer, but wildlife officials say from their perspective it was a more normal summer.

"In the past, prior to last year, there would be an occasional sighting of a bear's behind going across the trail or scat on the trail," said John McCleary, recreation superintendent for Anchorage Parks and Recreation. "That is what I call normal."

The only bear-mauling deaths to have occurred in the municipality were in July 1995 when a mother and son were killed by a bear defending a moose carcass along a trail.

Sinnott said human behavior may have changed this summer in Anchorage. Fewer cars have been parked at Far North Bicentennial Park where the two women were attacked last summer on Rover's Run trail. The trail, which runs next to a salmon stream, was closed in early June to reduce the chances of people encountering hungry bears. It remains closed but may be reopened now that cold weather and winter is on the way.

McCleary said park usage appears to be getting back to normal.

Killing the bear that attacked runner Clivia Feliz probably did the most to quiet things this summer, Sinnott said. An analysis of DNA found in saliva and hair revealed it was the same bear, also believed to have chased and charged other park users. The sow's two cubs were sent to the Indianapolis Zoo.

"Part of it was one brown bear sow with her two cubs that was in the wrong place at the wrong time -- from a human perspective -- and was willing to take protection of her cubs to the limit," Sinnott said.

The DNA test determined that it was not the bear who committed the most serious attack of the summer when Petra Davis' carotid artery was partially severed and her trachea crushed during the bike race.

Removing the troublesome sow also didn't explain why the Eagle River area was quiet this summer after Devon Rees was attacked last summer. There also were numerous reports of people being charged by perhaps a second grizzly in the town, Sinnott said.

Maybe the bear "wasn't in the mood" or moved on, he said.

"I don't know," Sinnott said.

Organizers of Anchorage's "Bear Aware? Know Before You Go" program said thousands of people received education this summer on how to avoid bears and what to do if you encounter one. Activities included bear know-how games for children and bear clinics for adults.

After last summer, some residents were afraid to enjoy the city parks, said Elizabeth Manning, education and outreach specialist for Fish and Game.

"We have just been trying to arm people with as much education and information so they can get over that fear," Manning said.

The increased use of bear resistant trash cans by residents also may be making a difference, Manning said. Use is up from about 150 cans a couple of years ago to about 800 now.

1 comment:

  1. I'm wondering where the bears have gone? Is this a good thing that people haven't been seeing them lately, or is something wrong with the bears? Maybe the bears are getting smarter and we should worry more.