Bears Rising, If Not Shining

Joseph Robertia / Kenai Peninsula Clarion / March 31, 2004

The days are growing longer, the snow is melting and the pussy willows are about to bloom, spring is here, and with it comes the awakening of the Kenai Peninsula's resident population of roughly 300 brown bears and 3,000 black bears.

"It's that time of year," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "We've seen bears out of the den as early as January, but as a rule March is when we'll start getting calls about bear activity and den emergence."

This year already is off to a less than stellar start in regard to interactions between bears and humans. Two weeks ago a seismic worker near Ninilchik was attacked by a brown bear sow after she was accidentally flushed out of her den. The sow became the first bear of the year killed in defense of life or property, and her two cubs still are not accounted for.

Last Thursday morning, Fish and Game responded to its second bear report of the year after a brown bear was claimed to be sighted in the vicinity of the Kenai Municipal Park off South Forest Drive late last Wednesday afternoon.

Lewis said two young girls sledding on the hill observed the bear. He investigated the scene and found a tipped over garbage can in the park, which may have been an attractant.

However, upon further investigation, Lewis said the only animal he saw was a coyote that ran off into the woods after seeing him.

"I found numerous moose, dog and human tracks, but no sign of a bear," Lewis said. "I'm not discounting that they saw a bear, though, because it is that time of year."

Lewis added that the undeveloped gully that runs parallel to Forest Drive is frequently used as a travel corridor for numerous species of wildlife. Consequently, the animals will periodically wander into the surrounding subdivisions.

Last year, a young black bear was relocated by Fish and Game after it showed up on North Forest Drive, where it tried to gain access to a Dumpster near Sears Elementary School. Another black bear was euthanized behind Dan's TV and Appliance Store after its presence became a public safety issue.

Brown bears also made an appearance in the area last year when one was reported near the cemetery in Old Town Kenai.

"People need to be conscious of the fact that we do have resident bears in the area," Lewis said.

Typically, it's older males that are the first to come out. Females with cubs generally stay in longer, but both sexes will stay near the den for a few weeks upon emergence.

These bears are hungry after hibernating all winter, but food is scarce this time of year.

Lewis said the key to preventing conflict and confrontations between bears and humans is to be responsible.

"Garbage, dog food, bird seed, suet, anything that might attract a bear should be put away because the bears are looking for whatever they can find," he said.

Lewis also pointed out it is against the law to intentionally feed bears or negligently leave out human food, animal food or garbage that attracts them. It also is against the law to kill a bear attracted by improperly stored food or garbage.

"We ask anyone who knows of illegal baiting or poaching in the area to report it," he said.

Lewis suggested the expansion of the Bear-Safe Neighborhood Project, which uses bear-resistant receptacles, as food for thought for area communities.

He said the Fish and Game office in Soldotna has numerous booklets and other resources regarding living in harmony with bears, which are free to the general public.

Lewis will teach a bear safety course at the Kenai Peninsula Sports Rec and Trade Show next month.

For more information or to report bear-related activity, contact Fish and Game at 262-9368.

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