Spurred from photographs taken near mile marker six on North Douglas Highway, rumors of a brown bear on Douglas Island have been circulating.
But whether or not the animal in the pictures is, in fact, a brown bear - as opposed to a brown-colored black bear - remains to be determined.
Riley Woodford, an information officer with the state Department of Fish and Game, said by looking at the pictures and weighing the facts, chances are high the animal is a brown bear. But nothing is yet confirmed.
"Kim Titus, a brown bear biologist, said it looked like a brown bear," he said. "And the things it did, that's really consistent with brown bears."
Woodford confirmed that Rick Beasley, who lives at 6-mile on North Douglas Highway, took the photographs Sunday, May 16 around 7 a.m. Woodford recounted the conversation he had with Beasley's brother, Rick, about the sighting.
Beasley said the bear, which was about 35 feet away when the pictures were taken, found a half gallon jug of chain saw oil, drank it, then proceeded to chomp on the empty jug. He said however, he wouldn't swear it was a brown bear because he is no "bear expert."
Historically, black bears are the island's most common bear species, though brown bears are known to be good swimmers, so it's not entirely impossible that one made its way to the area.
Ryan Scott, area wildlife biologist with the ADF&G, said he's seen the pictures and believes the bear is likely a black bear.
"I lean a little bit more in that direction," he said. "But I could be proven wrong."
In years past, stories surrounding sightings of brown bears on Douglas have circulated and like all stories, the facts are hard to discern from the hearsay. Woodford said he's been sent photographs and heard stories, but takes each with a grain of salt.
"There have been occasional rumors of a brown bear in the 1970s on the island," he said. "But there has never been a documented sighting of a brown bear on Douglas, that I know of. When I see a picture of a brown bear on Douglas, I'm immediately skeptical."
Yet the potential presence of this animal is not one for concern, Scott said.
"Right now, we don't know that it's causing any issues, people are just seeing it here or there," he said. "We'll keep our ears open and address it if need be."
In the meantime, Scott said residents in the area should do what they can to keep food scents to a minimum and any other temptations inaccessible for wild animals of any kind.
"The same rules apply with brown bears and black bears," Scott said.
Brown bears in and around Juneau are not unheard of. Some sightings have occurred in the vicinity of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and near Pack Creek on Admiralty Island.
• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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