Number of bear sightings in Juneau down this season

Posted: Monday, June 18, 2001

During her five years in Juneau, Anne-Marie Palumbo had never seen a bear.

Recently, she saw two.

"I don't know if there are more bears this year, but it seems like (after) coming into contact with a couple of bears already ... there might be more around," Palumbo said.

According to Neil Barten, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, bear numbers in Juneau are low to average.

"To be honest, I think we've probably had fewer phone calls this year than we had last year or probably even the year before," Barten said.

Fish and Game has received several dozen reports from the police, most of which are sightings of bears in garbage or in neighborhood yards.

Those numbers are low for the Juneau police as well, said Capt. Tom Porter.

"On the average we're probably, at this point, receiving fewer calls than at this time last year," Porter said. "If it works the way it normally has, we will expect to see an increase in the number of calls as we get later into the summer. As of right now, it's actually a little bit lighter."

Palumbo's experience might have been an exception, but it shook her nonetheless. An avid mountain biker, Palumbo was preparing for a ride on June 9 on Dredge Lake Trail, off Back Loop Road, when she came face-to-face with a bear.

"I was looking down at the pedals, and when I looked up there was a bear right in front of me," Palumbo said.

Palumbo got off her bike and waited, believing that the bear would be frightened of her and flee.

"I had always thought the bear would see me and then run ... but this bear didn't. He just sat there," Palumbo said. "He was standing there and looking at me, so I yelled at him to go away and all the hackles on his back went up. All the hair stood up."

Palumbo began to back away and made it to her car. She watched as the bear stared at her, retreated into the woods - and then returned.

"He came right back and sat in front of the car and was watching me," Palumbo said. "Then he took off. I've never run into a bear before. This is my first time. I was a little bit daunted because I had always thought that a bear would run. That's kind of what I was told."

On June 14, Palumbo encountered a second bear, this time on the trail at Brotherhood Bridge. This one ran away as she approached.

Flight is the usual bear response, Barten said. But if you have to act, Palumbo did the right thing.

"If you do encounter one, just let it know who you are," Barten said. "Just talk to it (and) slowly wave your arms, and more often than not it'll move off at that point. If it doesn't ... your best bet is to move off yourself."

Prevention remains the best form of protection, he added. Hike in a group, make noise and avoid food sources if you decide to go off the trail.

"Just be aware of where you are and where you are in relation to food sources, whether it's a berry patch or whether it's a salmon stream," Barten said. "If you're in a food source, you probably either shouldn't be there or you should be making a lot of noise."

In the past, the most frequent bear sightings have been made on the Montana Creek Trail. But reports do come in from the Perseverance, Salmon Creek and Dredge Lake trails as well, Barten said.

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