Alaska’s Bears: What you need to know in April

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

 

With a warmer-than-normal winter, Alaska is experiencing an early arrival of balmy weather. Now that official announcements of “Spring” are passing the lips of weather forecasters, garden experts, and recreational operators, it is time, I think, for AKontheGO’s annual “Bear Aware Blog Post.”

For those of you new to AKontheGO, or Alaska, welcome. For those who have followed my musings on Alaska wildlife, especially bears, thank you for reading. I’ve posted before the tactics, suggestions, and options for parents venturing into Alaska’s bear country, and this year found myself answering more questions than normal about waking bruins, especially once temperatures reached a toasty 50F in early March.

Unsure myself about the internal clock of bears’ hibernation habits, I turned to Jessy Coltrane of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the expert when it comes to our Anchorage bears, especially. Jessy and I chatted briefly about parental concern, and she not only made me feel better about springtime recreational endeavors, she was perfectly clear that bears are NOT up for the season, at least not yet.

Below are high points of Jessy’s conversation with me: 

1. Bears DO wake up occasionally during warm-ups, especially when water starts dripping into their den (can you blame them?). In this situation, they will wander about, maybe finding a new den for the remaining months or weeks of hibernation, or return to their own den and rearrange the furniture for a more comfortable slumber. Then, they’ll go back to sleep.

2. Bears will generally NOT emerge from hibernation until there is food to eat, consistently. At the beginning of springtime wake-up for bears, they need grasses, sedges, and other edible greenish things to clean out their system and hold them over until moose calves and other meat sources appear. Not that a bear won’t wake up for good earlier than normal, of course, anything is possible, but as a general guideline, Jessy says, those early spring days, with cold nights and no growth of plants, makes for a no-go in bears’ internal messinging system. May is typically when we begin seeing consistent bear activity in Southcentral Alaska, but that could be April, this year.

3. Recreationalists MIGHT see tracks. Read #1, above, for the reason why. Should you worry? Not necessarily. Follow our hard and fast rules of bear-aware behavior: Make noise, travel in groups, avoid bear-friendly habitat (brushy areas, streams, etc), and carry bear spray.

April is nearly here, and longer daylight hours WILL mean a rapid increase in growth of foliage, bear cubs, and anything else that thrives on Alaska’s landscape. Soon, we WILL have to pay closer attention to where we hike, bike, camp, or picnic, and soon, parents will need to refresh the memories of kids, and friends, about appropriate bear behavior. It’s up to us, not the bear, to behave correctly, as they are sharing their home with us.

Read more about age-appropriate bear-aware tactics, and suggestions for parents, HERE. 

Eagle River Nature Center is hosting an annual bear-aware class, and the Alaska Zoo will also host its annual Mother’s Day event with bear-safety information in May.

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

 

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