ANCHORAGE - A study by state biologists found that one of the busiest avenues for grizzly bears runs right through a popular summer destination along Campbell Creek in Anchorage.
While biologists with the Department of Fish and Game knew the area was popular with bears, they were surprised to find out just how many were hanging out along the stream. It appears the bears are coming from several valleys in the Chugach Mountains above Anchorage.
Sean Farley, a bear research biologist with Fish and Game, said it was surprising to find out how many bears actually live in Anchorage, and near its approximately 300,000 residents.
Farley said the study shows that on warm summer days, when young children play around the creek near the Bureau of Land Management's Campbell Creek Science Center, bears are seldom far away.
Farley said over the past three summers he's documented at least three dozen bears focused in or near the stream. The bears are roaming large ranges that in some cases stretch all the way to the Little Susitna River west of Wasilla.
"Cook Inlet waters are not a barrier to bears," Farley's study notes. "Both black and brown bears have been observed successfully crossing Turnagain and Knik arms. The home range of one male in this study extended from the headwaters of Peters Creek (near Eagle River) to the Little Susitna River."
Of 11 bears fitted with radio collars during the study, a boar had the largest range. It wandered an area about eight times larger than that of the average sow with cubs. The latter tended to focus their time in and around salmon streams in sight of Anchorage.
The bears were occasionally seen by hikers or mountain bikers, but not nearly as often as Farley's data suggests they should be. He has documented bears roaming all of the popular recreational trails in Far North Bicentennial Park and the Campbell Tract.
While grizzly bears are endangered or threatened in the Lower 48 states, in Anchorage they could be considered the neighbor next door.
Biologists are leery of even taking a guess at exactly how many grizzly bears inhabit the municipality of Anchorage. But they agree that it is it far more than the 50 once thought to make up the entire population in the area bounded by Turnagain Arm, Knik Arm, and a line across the mountains from Portage to the Knik Glacier.