Bears begin to wake

Posted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

As the days grow longer and the snow recedes, wildlife managers with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are advising people to minimize attractants that could lure in bears hungry after six months of hibernation.

"We've already had a couple reports of bears showing up," said Fish and Game area wildlife manager Jeff Selinger.

Wake-up varies from year to year, he said, but generally late March to early April is when bears emerge from their winter dens. More daylight, heat from warmer weather, their dens getting wet from melting snow and the bears having burned up their fat and energy reserves put on last year, all combine and cause these creatures to stir after several months' slumber.

"We had a few reports from trappers that started seeing tracks at the end of trapping season, and biologists flying over the Chugach area saw bear out last week," Selinger said. "They're not abundant yet, but they're definitely coming out."

The weather predictions for the coming week are calling for daytime highs that should be bringing out more bruins.

"With these 40- to 45-degree days," he said, "we'll see a pulse of them coming out, particularly at lower elevations."

To avoid conflicts between humans and wildlife, Selinger described many ways to minimize attractants. These include having garbage in bear-resistant containers and making frequent trips to the dump to haul it off.

Residents should also make sure beehives and livestock -- such as pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits -- are protected with three to five strands of electric fencing, and ensure that livestock and pet feed is indoors or stored in a secure place, he said.

In addition, chest freezers full of fish, moose and other food items should be secured with ratchet straps or locking latches. Native birds should be provided only with a bird bath, not seed or suet in summer, and any winter leftovers should be thoroughly cleaned, he said.

"When they first emerge, there's not a lot for them to eat," Selinger said. "So they'll be looking for a strong odor to follow to meal, and they don't care if it's a garbage, livestock or a moose carcass."

Bears often feed naturally by scavenging the carcasses of unlucky moose that didn't have enough fat reserves of their own to make it through a cold winter with deep snow, and it would be easy for a jogger or dog walker to come up on a bear protecting its meal just off the road or trail. Selinger said this too should be something that residents bear in mind when venturing outdoors at this time of year.

Even close to home bears may be present. Last year, a man walking through his neighborhood off Mackey Lake Road, outside of Soldotna, shot and killed a brown bear that charged him and his pet dogs, while back in 2005 a jogger was mauled in this same area. In 2007, a man was bitten by a bear in Clam Gulch while walking to the Post Office, less than quarter-mile from his home.

"It doesn't matter if you're hiking, recreating, or just out in the yard or neighborhood, you have to be bear aware," Selinger said. "Keep an eye out for birds -- like magpies and ravens, and keep a nose out for rotting odors. Either of these things could mean a moose carcass, and a bear, are nearby."

Selinger said the relationship between hunters and landowners with nuisance bears will also be fostered again this year. The goal of this is to allow hunters to harvest bears that would have a high likelihood of being killed as a DLP -- defense of life and property -- shooting, which is a more responsible use of resources.

"We've issued 30 permits on the Kenai Peninsula for the spring brown bear drawing permit hunt," he said.

This doesn't mean that anyone who has a bear on their property can call and have it dispatched by a permit holder. According to Selinger certain criteria must be met, just like last year.

"The bear must be a legal animal to hunt, it has to be in an area legal to hunt and where it is safe to discharge a firearm, and the landowner has to have taken reasonable efforts to minimize bear attractants in the area," he said.

For more information on minimizing bear attractants, or to report nuisance bear activity, contact Fish and Game at 262-9368.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at

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