A brown bear duo fishing the salmon-choked streams near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center and Dredge Lakes is bringing out boorish behavior in tourists and residents, forest rangers said Friday.
Brown bear activity at the glacier is unusual in the summer, but this is at least the second time in three years that a brown bear mother and her several-year-old cub have made an appearance before fall. Crowds have developed around them, and the bears have become nervous, officials said.
Police were summoned to the glacier Tuesday because a large crowd was watching the bears.
Summer is a critical time for bears because they feed voraciously to put on enough fat to carry them through winter hibernation.
Rangers have temporarily closed the Moraine Ecology Trail because of bear traffic. Problems developed earlier in the week when a crowd of bear watchers blocked the road at the visitor center. Some people parked in the middle of the road, and some of them stood within 12 feet of the bears, said Cindi Lagoudakis, fish and wildlife program manager for the Juneau district of the Tongass National Forest.
"We'd like for people to be sensitive," Lagoudakis said.
In particular, the dark-coated cub has not handled the attention from humans very well.
"It has been kind of playful, sometimes aggressive with people," said Jeff Ward, assistant director for the visitor center. "It has actually charged some people."
Ward wonders whether the brown bear activity means that black bears will move out of the area. Bears are territorial.
"Usually at this time of year all we have is black bears - lots of black bears, crossing the parking lot, down in the stream fishing. Now we have brown bears fishing," he said.
Lagoudakis wouldn't speculate on whether brown bears are expanding their summer range or potentially displacing black bears.
"I wouldn't say," she said. "It is a neat opportunity for the public. It's pretty amazing to see both brown and black bears in an urban area."
The problem for Ward goes beyond bruins and human safety. The visitor center doesn't have any wildlife interpretation activities related to brown bears.
Perhaps that will have to change, he said.
"I wonder if we are looking at something more permanent."
Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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