Glacier bears scarce this season

Posted: Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center bears have not shown up this year in the same numbers as the past, making staff wonder where they are.

Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire
Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire

About a dozen female black bears and their cubs usually live around the center each summer, to the delight of many tourists. But staff has seen only a few bears this season.

"It's certainly not the daily viewing opportunities we've become accustomed to," Director Ron Marvin said.

In the past few years, bears have shown up at the visitor center as early as April. They climb nearby cottonwood trees to eat the seed pods, Marvin said.

"They haven't been up in the trees," he said. "We're a little perplexed and we miss the bears."

The visitor center has become one of the U.S Forest Service's busiest, with more than 450,000 visitors annually. The vast majority are cruise ship passengers who want to see the glacier but increasingly, as the center's bear population grew, bear sightings became as popular as the icy, blue view.

Bear sightings this year are down around town as well, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Biologist Ryan Scott.

Where there's food there are bears, and Scott said the lack of sightings at lower elevations might be due to an abundance of edibles elsewhere.

An early spring-up at high elevations followed by a strong berry bloom might have contributed to bears staying at higher elevations, Scott said.

"We had such a great spring, things came in full force and there was lots of vegetation," he said. "Then there wasn't a break in between spring-up and the berries. There seems to be plenty of food out there for them, that's what we hope for."

The result is a lower-than-averge number of bear calls so far this season.

Scott cautioned against residents relaxing their vigilance about containing garbage so bears don't get habituated to human food sources.

"We don't want to create a problem where there isn't one," he said.

Salmon will begin to enter the streams soon, when bears will move around to change food sources. They enter the creek at the visitor center in late July or early August, Marvin said.

Marvin and Scott said a pack of three wolves seen around the valley and Lemon Creek this spring probably didn't affect bear behavior.

Scott said Friday there have been no reports of the wolves for several weeks.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@

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