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Brown bear still prowling Anchorage trails, after most begin hibernating

Posted: November 27, 2011 - 1:09am

ANCHORAGE — Weeks after most bears are believed to be snug in their dens, at least one insomniac grizzly is still prowling about trails in Anchorage.

There have been few sightings of the bear, but it’s been leaving tracks on Hillside cross-country ski trails, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“Every single morning there are tracks,” says John Hemmeter of the Nordic Skiing Association.

The bear walked onto the popular Hillside Loop near a connecting trail known as Coach’s Cut-off on Thursday night, he said.

Patrice Weinmeister said that from her driveway she saw a brown bear heading into Ruth Arcand Park on Monday. The park has an equestrian center and horse trails, and Weinmeister said she skipped going for a ride after she saw the bear.

Most brown bears hit their dens in late October or early November, and it’s rare for any to be seen on Anchorage ski trails this late in the year. But biologist Dave Battle of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said that generally it’s not uncommon for brown bears to still be prowling around at the end of November.

Battle said he’s checked out the paw prints and believes there’s sign of only one bear, probably 400 to 500 pounds — medium-sized.

Sean Farley, a Fish and Game biologist who has studied the habits of brown bears, said a brown bear might stay out longer because of its physical condition. A bear that is in exceptional shape and has a food source might feel not need to den yet. A bear that’s in poor shape may not have accumulated enough fat to keep it healthy while hibernating, or it could be injured or sick, Farley said.

In his studies, Farley found that 15 to 20 brown bears use Far North Bicentennial Park, which encompasses the Hillside ski trails, at some time of the year.

The bears den in winter in anything from tree roots to a hole in the ground to a cave, he said.

Battle searched for sign of a moose carcass or other meat that would keep a bear in the area, but didn’t find anything.

Fish and Game is cautioning skiers to use extra care when out early or late in the day, when the bear tends to move around. Battle also warned residents of the area not to put their garbage outside early.

Service High ski coach Jan Buron said his high school skiers and people he coaches through his Alaska Winter Stars program are skiing in bigger groups than usual, and avoiding parts of the trails without lights.

“I don’t think it’s super-safe,” he said.

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