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Local woman tells of bear encounter

Charging black bear left her with minor injuries

Posted: August 12, 2013 - 8:00pm  |  Updated: August 13, 2013 - 12:01am
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Désireé Goble, 36, talks Monday about a run-in with a black bear Sunday evening near her home in the Mendenhall Valley that left a small puncture wound and bruises on her right leg.  Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Michael Penn | Juneau Empire
Désireé Goble, 36, talks Monday about a run-in with a black bear Sunday evening near her home in the Mendenhall Valley that left a small puncture wound and bruises on her right leg.

Désireé Goble is chalking up her run-in with a black bear Sunday evening to being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The surprise encounter, wherein the bear took a swipe at her as it bounded through a neighborhood behind Duck Creek Market in the valley, left the 36-year-old waitress with just minor injuries.

“Nothing big came out of it,” she said in an interview, hoisting up her right pant leg revealing pencil-thin white lines. “I just have some scratches.”

A purple Band-Aid covers the one puncture mark on her upper right calf from the bear’s claw.

“You know when you barely step on a nail, and it kind of just goes right through the first part, and it doesn’t go all the way through? That’s kind of what it felt like,” she said.

The incident occurred at about 10:15 p.m. Sunday in the Sprucewood Trailer Park as Goble began to walk home from her boyfriend’s house. Before leaving the area, though, she stopped for a moment and sat on a rock as she plugged in her headphones and put a soda bottle in her purse.

That’s when she heard a noise behind her. At first, she thought it was a bicyclist and thought nothing of it. But then she heard something again a few moments later, and she turned around to look.

“I saw four legs in the dark and thought it may be a dog, but then I realized it was a bear,” she said. “And it was huffing, and I could just hear his nails hitting the ground as it ran toward me. It took maybe a second before he was right on me.”

Goble said the bear swiped her in the leg with its paw as she was lunging off of the rock to run away.

“You’re not supposed to run, but my instinct — I ran,” she said, “and I screamed the entire time.”

She leapt into the bed of a nearby pickup truck for safety, but the bear kept pursuing her and clamoring around the vehicles. Luckily, a neighbor heard the commotion and helped divert the bear’s attention away. Goble said the bear charged the neighbor several times, but he was able to retreat into his house without being hurt. Another neighbor, whom Goble knew and was hollering for, scared the bear away by revving a truck’s engine and honking the horn, she said.

Meanwhile, Goble had made it safely into her friend’s house.

“When I got there, I didn’t notice anything until I sat down and took a couple of breaths, and then I felt the trickle of blood go down my leg,” she said, adding she was wearing shorts at the time. “It looked all bloody and gory, and, of course, we went to clean it all off and it’s a little tiny hole.”

Two officials from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game responded to the 911 call from the neighbor. One of them, Fish and Game wildlife biologist Ryan Scott, said in a phone interview Tuesday that they searched for the bear but were unable to find it. He said they have since set a trap and will kill it if it’s caught.

“I can’t assess the danger level into the future but any time a bear makes contact with someone like that, I don’t think it’s a good candidate for relocation,” he said.

Scott described the black bear’s behavior as “atypical” in that black bears normally run away or “disperse” after bumping into people.

“That’s an oddity, but when she ran — and that’s just human nature — I suspect the bear pursued her because of that,” he said.

When people are confronted by a black bear, Scott encourages them to “stand your ground and talk to the bear calmly while slowly backing away.” Of course, he said, that’s easier said than done when confronted by a 300-pound bear barreling at you full speed.

“Human nature comes into play,” he said.

Goble said it did in her case.

“I screamed, I kicked, I ran,” she said with a laugh. “They say, ‘Do not run, do not run from the bear.’ Face them, puff up or whatever. OK, well, unless you’ve been in that situation ...”

While conducting interviews with neighbors in the area Sunday evening, Scott said he learned that the bear in this case had been around the neighborhood for a while. It reportedly had been rummaging through trash there and became food-conditioned and habituated to humans.

“It’s getting human food, becoming food-conditioned and habituated to some extent moving around a dense housing area,” Scott said. “So it doesn’t excuse that behavior and it doesn’t explain everything, but we do know that part of the equation.”

This is the second such incident this summer, Scott said. Last month a man bumped into a bear as they rounded the same corner and both spooked the other. The bear pursued and “pawed” the man, but the injuries in that case were even slighter than in this case, according to Scott. Fish and Game also tried to find that bear, but with no luck.

Despite two reported bear ‘attacks’, Scott said bear aggression is probably not on the uptick.

“I don’t think the danger from black bears in Juneau has changed, I think this is an isolated type thing,” he said.

Goble, who has born in Ketchikan and has lived in Juneau most her life, speculated that the bear had probably just been shooed out of someone else’s yard and was trying to escape moments before it ran into her. She said it was just doing what bears do naturally and that she hopes it is not put down.

“It’s not its fault,” she said. “Just like my instincts were to run, he was only trying to protect himself.”

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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