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Brown bear scare: Bruin spotted in valley

Posted: November 15, 2013 - 1:09am

A brown bear “desperate for its last morsel of food” before hibernation sauntered through residential areas of the Mendenhall Valley on Thursday, an uncommon sight that scared one elementary school into cancelling morning outdoor recess, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Assistant Area Management Biologist Stephanie Sell said it was the second sighting of the bruin this week — on Monday it was roving trails near the Brotherhood Bridge and swimming in the Mendenhall River, a venture one man caught on video and posted on YouTube.

“It is,” Sell said, confirming it is “definitely” not a black bear. “Yes, there is a brown bear in the valley.”

Brown bears sometimes stray into Juneau down from the Coast Mountains but are usually seen in the woods further out the road near Cowee Creek, Bridget Cove and Berners Bay, or on the other side of Juneau near the Taku river. It’s rare for one to wander so far into town.

“Not very many brown bears do it,” Sell said.

Maybe one or two brown bears make it this far inland each year, if any at all, she said. One was spotted last year by Dredge Lake.

That’s of course in contrast to black bear sightings, which are common in Juneau’s urban settings and residential areas, as any Juneauite knows. Fun tidbit: Black bears and brown bears prefer not to mingle.

“They don’t like to really hang out together,” Sell said.

Sell suspects the young bear in this case is just doing what bears do before the onset of winter and scavenging for food.

“Bears are just desperate for that last bit of food before they go to bed,” she said.

It was first spotted Monday on the trails near Brotherhood Bridge, which is “perfect bear habitat” lush with vegetation, Sell said. The YouTube video, which was posted by user Matt Mickle and has garnered about 2,500 hits online so far, shows the bear the same day swimming from one embankment of the Mendenhall River toward the other.

“It eventually crossed and wandered through the neighborhood” near Meander Way, Mickle wrote online.

It was again spotted at about 5:15 a.m. Thursday by a person driving to the gym on Riverside Drive. Unaware it was a bruin, the driver spotted an “extremely large bear” and drove up to it to get a closer look. He or she then alerted Fish and Game and the Juneau Police Department.

Sell said she contacted the two nearby schools, Riverbend Elementary School and Thunder Mountain High School, to ensure they knew about the sighting. The elementary school moved their first outdoor recess session inside, just in case.

Sell asks that if anyone sees the bruin to report it to Fish and Game. She said officials are treating it “just like any other bear” that’s seen in Juneau, but they want to keep tabs on its movements.

“We don’t really do much when bears are just being bears,” she said.

Fish and Game will likely only respond if it gets into trouble. She reminded residents to keep their garbage secure and potential attractants contained.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” she said. “The last thing we need is a brown bear in a trash can.”

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

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