Bears in no hurry to go

Rubber bullets not deterring 3 young bruins

Posted: Friday, July 18, 2003

Dan Bigley, the 25-year-old man mauled by a brown bear Tues-day at the Russian River remained in critical condition at Providence Alaska Medical Center on Thurs-day, while biologists and land managers scrambled to prevent future encounters between humans and bears.

Several bears were again spotted prowling the area where the Russian and Kenai rivers converge Thursday, oblivious to new rules designed to keep them from meeting up with people.

Fishing has been closed between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on the Russian, through its confluence with the Kenai River downstream to the powerline crossing. The popular Russian River trail along the Chugach National Forest side of the Russian also has been shut down by the U.S. Forest Service during the same hours fishing is restricted. Still, according to biologists on the scene, bears are very much a concern in the area.

Fish and Game area management biologist Jeff Selinger said he spent Thursday morning attempting to again separate humans from bears.

"It wasn't a good situation," he said.

Officials fired rubber bullets at three juvenile bears hanging out near the confluence with their mother Thursday in an effort to scare the bears off. However, the bears were persistent in circling back into the area, attracted by the smell of rotting early-run fish.

"They're doing what cubs will do," Selinger said. "Getting into trouble."

Selinger said he had to move some anglers out of the confluence area at one point when the cubs became separated from the sow, who was reported to be showing a reluctance to go too close to humans. There were no reports of any bears charging or mauling people.

The good news from Fish and Game's perspective is that a large run of late-run sockeye salmon has begun to move from Cook Inlet into the Kenai River and its tributaries. Selinger said he hopes that as those fish arrive upstream during the next few days, either the bears will find other fishing holes away from the Russian or grow weary of the constant harassment.

Officials with Fish and Game and the Forest Service did say humans were cooperating Thurs-day, and generally complying with the new regulations. Selinger said he wasn't aware of any violations being issued for any infractions of the rules, though he noted that a few anglers had complained about being forced to abandon their favorite holes by the hungry bears.

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