In the last month or so, bears have begun to emerge from their dens, munch on grass, and, occasionally stray a little too close to people and their dogs.
The Sunday before last, a local man was walking with a black lab and his daughter’s husky on Lemon Creek Trail, behind Home Depot. The man, who asked that his name not be used, said the husky was in the lead when a bear suddenly appeared and she and the dog began to fight.
The man has been hiking the Juneau trails without an encounter like this for 30 years, he said. He credits the husky with saving his life.
“He pretty much became the hero,” the man said. “He took on the bear. And he was able to save the black lab and myself from the bear … We were fortunate to have the husky up there, and he took it on and survived. He’s a lucky dog. A tough dog.”
The man said there’s very little that could have prevented the situation.
“It was one of those freak things that happen that you occupy the same space at the same time,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing would have prevented this. No bear spray, no gun. You come around the corner, walk through a brushy area and oops, there’s a bear — he’s as startled as you are.”
The bear that bit the husky was a sow with two cubs. During the fight, the cubs went up a tree.
Afterward, the man lost track of the dogs and the sow, though the cubs stayed in the tree and he knew the sow was nearby.
“We didn’t know if the dog was alive or not, because the fight was pretty fierce,” he said.
He used his phone to call for help. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Wildlife Conservation Wildlife Biologist Ryan Scott arrived at the scene shortly after Juneau police.
Bear fur and dog hair was everywhere at the fight scene, the man said — as was crushed grass and skunk cabbage, Scott said — but there was no dog.
The cubs appeared to be yearlings, based on their size, he said. Within a few minutes, they figured out where the sow was.
“She was pretty mellow at that point. She wasn’t at all worked up,” Scott said.
While they were encouraging her to leave, she showed some “low level” stress signs — yawning, for example — but didn’t vocalize.
“There was never a real aggressive attitude from her,” Scott said. “It was a defensive move by the female for sure. She wanted to protect her cubs, and sent them up in a tree. If she had intended to kill the dogs, I think that would have happened … once the perceived threat was dealt with, she went on her way … I suspect they just bumbled into each other.”
This story ended happily — the bear appeared healthy, Scott said, and after a while they were able to convince the three bears to meander away.
It turns out the husky had made it back to the Home Depot parking lot and jumped into the man’s pickup truck.
“Even with all those wounds, he made it back out the trail,” the man said.
In other recent encounters, runner and Juneau Empire sports editor Klas Stolpe had a bear encounter on Perseverance Trail bear that he wrote about in his column, “Pure Sole.” The bear briefly chased him, sitting down when he faced her and raised his voice and his arms.
Scott said he suspects that sow is “a bear we’ve known about up there for many years.”
The sow has successfully raised several litters, he said.
He said if it’s the same bear he’s thinking of, she’s always been very laid back, but as with most bears, a surprise would provoke her.
A man was also false charged by a black bear on East Glacier trail in May. That bear didn’t have cubs, but it turned out there was someone heading up the trail the opposite way, essentially trapping the bear between two people on a steep slope. At the last minute, the bear turned away.
All recent, local bear encounters are reminders to be as cautious and bear-aware as possible while out on the trails, Scott said. And, if you’re in Lemon Creek, keep an eye out.
Stolpe’s column can be found here: http://juneauempire.com/sports/2014-05-30/bay-watch-err-bear-watch.