Bears? Now? Take Care and Take Note: Winter-Bear-Aware In Session!

Shhhhhhhh. The bears of Anchorage are supposed to be sleeping, although it seems they missed the memo, judging from the number of tracks spotted on a daily basis in and around Alaska’s largest city. Heck, I was out hiking the other day in my favorite stretch of the Campbell Tract and came upon a huge bear-print right there in front of my own size 10 boots. Yikes!

Didn’t take me long after that close-enough-encounter to contact my friends at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game . I’m ready to NOT worry about bears for a few months, for pete’s sake, and here I am, skis and snowshoes at the ready, sharing my groomed trails with these furry creatures <grump>.

Biologist David Battle says there could be any number of reasons our bear friends are reluctant to take to their beds. Brown bears, for instance, are light sleepers. It could be, too, that a bear is defending a recent kill, although Battle says he’s walked the area pretty closely and hasn’t seen any sure signs of that. We’ve even been hearing of a black bear napping right on freshly-groomed ski trails, which might mean a sick, injured, or even belligerant adolescent bear. Summer food sources might not have been as plentiful as desired, but we don’t know for sure. Battle does know that once snow falls and tracks become more visible, people will be calling, especially now that places like Hilltop Ski Area and the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage have actually seen these tracks, and in one case of Hilltop’s webcam, seen the bears.

So what’s a person to do, especially we parents, who want to get out and recreate, but are feeling a wee bit nervous about those big clawmarks on the ground?

“Stay alert,” said Battle. “If you are skiing, remember that you’ll be moving a lot faster and quieter than hiking, and may surprise a bear.” He suggests making noise (hello, remember our summertime bear-aware tips?) as the most effective method, since bears, while not exactly up on the latest “skiing” sounds, will likely clue into the human voice. Sing holiday carols, maybe? How about those jingle bells? Yep, a good idea, too.

Should you carry bear spray? “Yes,” says Battle, but do keep it close to your body so that it does not become too cold and thus, useless should you need it quickly. Be sure the spray is accessible, however, and perhaps practice your “draw” before you leave the house; remember, bear spray with bare hands is a whole lot different than bear spray with mittens or gloves. (hmm, I better find the bear spray after I put it up for the winter.)

Remind kids, too, that staying within arm’s reach of an adult is important. Make sure bigger kids follow summertime rules of making noise and traveling in groups. Battle suggests that folks stick to daytime treks or skis for the next few weeks, just to give our bruin friends time to find their nighty-night place.

Consider, at least for a while, leashing up your canine friends as well. One dog versus one tired, hungry, and cranky bear might not end well for anyone.

Battle asks that anyone who sees signs of circling magpies, ravens, and the like to stay away from the area and call the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 907-267-2344 to report the possibility of a carcass, which changes the game, considerably.

In the meantime, do enjoy yourselves, follow the rules, and perhaps sing a favorite lullabye to our brown and black bears who, obviously, need someone to tuck them in.

PS: Do NOT put out the birdfeeders just yet, even though our feathered friends may be clamoring at your window; and wait until the morning of trash day to put out your garbage can. All bears need is one reason to stay up, and I’d hate to be that reason, eh?

Posted in Alaska Wildlife Experiences, Health and Safety and tagged , , , .