It’s been a bad year for relations between humans and black bears in Alaska.
A teen runner and a mine employee were mauled to death by black bears within a span of 48 hours last week, and another person escaped severe injury or death thanks to can of bear spray.
Five bears were killed too. Two were culprits, the others were just in the wrong place.
Now, Alaskans are watching their backs like never before when they’re in the wild or semi-wild. And we may be more inclined to report a bear that looks like trouble.
Reporting aggressive or problem animals to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game used to be standard.
Then a funny thing happened — the calls stopped coming. They just sort of dwindled.
Instead, people started using their smart phones and social media to post their encounters, and Fish and Game might or might not hear about these close calls until long after the fact, according to ADF&G Area Biologist Dave Battle.
“People seemed to be posting bear encounters to social media, like Facebook or to their local Nextdoor app, but weren’t notifying us. People were mad we weren’t helping, but in some cases we just didn’t know about the issue,” he said on the department’s web page.
Fish and Game has responded to people’s changing habits by creating an online wildlife encounter report form. You can now report a human-wildlife conflict, or an injured, aggressive or orphaned animal here, or here.
Alaskans can add an app-like button to their iPhones by opening the web site and chosing the “Add to Home Screen.” An app will appear on the screen. Tapping it takes the user to the reporting form, which takes just minutes to complete.
POGO MINE BEAR ATTACK
Last Monday’s bear attack on two Pogo Mine employees is being investigated by Fish and Game. The department says early indications are that the bear was predatory.
One of the mine workers — 27-year-old Erin Johnson — died at the scene and her coworker Ellen Trainor, sustained injuries. Trainor was able to get to her bear spray and the bear broke off the attack, according to Fish and Game. Another mine arrived with a rifle and killed the bear, which has been identified as a cinnamon-colored adult male.
A necropsy on the bear has been completed and is being analyzed.
BIRD CREEK ATTACK
The Sunday attack occurred on a well-traveled trail during a running event near Bird Creek, just south of Anchorage. The bear thought responsible for that attack on 16-year-old Patrick Cooper was killed on Tuesday. The department mounted a ground search for the suspected killer bear, but the terrain is extremely steep and rugged. A search was conducted by plane. In the end, four black bears were killed in an effort to find the correct animal, the one with a wound to the head from an earlier shot by a Chugach State Park ranger.
Bear attacks in Alaska are not common, and usually occur when bears are surprised, or when sows sense their cubs are in danger. The department has recorded 207 bear attacks on humans in Alaska between 1980 and 2014.
But if attacks are uncommon, encounters are not: Alaska is home to 100,000 black bear, or one bear for approximately every seven humans.
“News of two people mauled and killed by black bears in separate incidents on successive days in separate regions of the state has many Alaskans on edge,” the department wrote in a press release.
ADF&G recommends that hikers, bikers, and runners in bear country carry bear spray or a weapon that can take down a bear, and to keep that deterrant within reach in case of a surprise encounter.
“When a bear is encountered at close range, people are advised to stand their ground, ready their deterrents, group up, and watch the bear. Stay firm and talk to the bear in a firm but calm voice. Don’t play dead, run, or panic. If blocking the bear’s path, try to move out of its way. If the bear continues to approach, follows, or is intent on a person, assert your dominance and become more aggressive. Don’t retreat. Shout, make yourself look large, use your deterrent or, if you don’t have a deterrent, throw rocks or sticks in an effort to drive off the bear. If the bear attacks, fight with anything you have, concentrating on the animal’s face or muzzle.”
For more information visit http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.bearcountry.