Juneau bears wake from long winter slumber

Parks and Recreation reports increased activity from Amalga Meadows to Switzer Creek area

Posted: Thursday, May 11, 2006

A sow and two cubs inspired only admiration, and no fear, when Oregon native Kim Munroe spotted them above the Flume Trail on Sunday.

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She has seen many black bears near Grants Pass, Ore. But the 25-year-old Juneau resident was surprised when another hiker said they had just viewed six black bears in the area.

After a long slumber, bears have arisen from winter dens just outside town and "out the road." They have departed caves, burrows, hollow trees or nests.

"They didn't seem to pose a threat," Munroe said of the bears she saw. "But we did have two dogs with us so we decided not to continue on the trail."

It was a typical spring afternoon of light rain when Munroe witnessed the three bears taking their time zigzagging downward, just above the Flume. The trail begins at the upper end of Evergreen Avenue, or just before the second bridge on Basin Road. It is popular with lunchtime hikers.

"I hope I can see more bears soon," Munroe said. "They actually sat down and started to watch us."

basic bear safety

• be aware of surroundings.

• make noise.

• hike in groups.

• maintain a safe distance from bears.

• bring nonlethal deterrents such as pepper spray, if trained properly.

• do not surround bears.

• never approach or feed any bear.

source: department of fish and game

Juneau's hikers have reported increasing bear activity in both outlying areas such as Amalga Meadows and more populated locations, including Switzer Creek, Juneau Parks and Recreation Director Marc Matsil said. Bears at Switzer Creek are of concern because of nearby Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School on Renninger Street, he said.

"Bears are coming out of dormancy so we expect them to come down looking for food," Matsil said. "Give them a wide berth and let them know you're there."

The Basin Road-Perseverance Trail area is full of bears now, but there have been no reports of problems yet, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Ryan Scott said.

"It is a great time to view bears," Scott said. "It is a real privilege, but people should be cautious and use common sense."

Bears are coming out of hibernation in most areas around the state, said John Hechtel, wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Many bears are hanging close to their dens after fasting for about six months, he said.

Hechtel, a bear aficionado and regional refuge manager for the state, said many people incorrectly place human attributes on bears.

"When they first wake up after hibernating they are not cranky, hungry and starving," Hechtel said. "They have been fasting six months and may be lethargic, adjusting to change."

A black bear was reportedly seen Saturday near Davis Avenue in the Lemon Creek area.

"In fact, we know some black bears back east have denned under houses," Hechtel said. "We have tracked some bears that set up a den one year at a riverbank, then the next year at a mountainside 20 miles away."

The black bear is the smallest of the two bear species in Southeast Alaska. The brown bear is larger and considered more dangerous, with a noticeable shoulder hump, and can weigh over 1,000 pounds. Bears can be dangerous, particularly when people make mistakes, Hechtel said.

"People have a tendency do unsafe things and nothing happens until that one time there is an incident," Hechtel said. "Many attacks could have been prevented."

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