Bearing Your Neighbors when You Move to Alaska

June 1, 2011 by Editor

May begins bear awareness in Anchorage

Alaska residents are proud of the fact that they share their state with so many varieties of wildlife. But imagine sharing the neighborhood with some of North America’s largest predators. More than 290,000 people live in Anchorage, along with 250-350 American black bears and 55-65 brown (grizzly) bears.

In early May, the bears begin emerging from hibernation. All too often, they come to residential neighborhoods looking for food. Unsecured trash cans are a favorite target.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the municipality of Anchorage encompasses 1,959 square miles, including a large state park, two military reserves, a portion of Chugach National Forest, other lands managed by federal agencies and a large state wildlife refuge. People occupy only about 10 percent of the total. Anchorage is a major modern city, but bear habitat encroaches on all sides.

It isn’t just the leavings of human activity that draw the bears to the developed areas—though bears are highly attracted to bird feeders, pet food and garbage. Anchorage’s metropolitan area also includes several large city parks that are chiefly natural, wooded habitat that provides abundant natural food sources for the omnivorous bears. Numerous streams are populated with spawning salmon from May through November.

So when moving to Alaska, be aware.  The presence of the bears is watchfully tolerated. But with so many large predators present, encounters are inevitable. At least three near-deadly incidents have occurred in one Anchorage city park in the last three years. A 15-year-old girl was savagely mauled in 2008 when she surprised a brown bear while participating in a 24-hour bicycle race. A few weeks later, a runner on the same trail survived a mauling by what was believed to be the same bear. In 2010, another bicyclist had an incredibly lucky escape from a bear while he rode his daily commute along the same creek-side trail.

Wildlife managers use a balanced approach and examine each case to decide if a particular bear is dangerous and needs to be destroyed. In 2002, the Anchorage Bear Committee was formed to develop and implement recommendations for bear conservation and management. Numerous public education programs emphasize safe practices and bear awareness. Keep it in mind if you’re on your way to Anchorage. Do your hiking in a group and give the bears a chance to hear you coming..

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