Fearless bear worries officials

Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- State wildlife and park officials are afraid that an unusually bold black bear that taunted a backpacker could turn dangerous.

Ron Ramsey of Anchorage said the bear opened his tent along Eagle River Saturday night. Ramsey eventually packed up and moved his camp to get out of its way, although he didn't think the weird encounter was such a big deal.

Wildlife and park officials, however, worry that such a brash bear could turn vicious.

Certainly, Ramsey told the Anchorage Daily News, ''the bear had no fear whatsoever of me.''

When the bear showed up around 9 p.m., Ramsey was asleep in his one-person tunnel tent in the makeshift Heritage Falls campground. ''I'd just crawled in there, and I must have dozed off,'' Ramsey said.

He heard something bang on the roof of the single-wall tent and sat up. The wind was blowing, so he thought a limb might have fallen from one of the trees. He unzipped the tent and stood up to look.

''On the other side of the tent looking at me was the black bear,'' Ramsey said. ''It was not aggressive at any time during the incident.''

And it wasn't afraid.

Canadian bear biologist Stephen Herrero, an authority on black and grizzly bear behavior, has said this is what is usually seen among those rare black bears that turn predatory.

Black bears appearing to act aggressively, he said, are usually trying to scare people away. Black bears thinking about attacking, he added, seem to methodically size up their prey before making a decision about what to do.

An experienced woodsman, Ramsey knew better than to show any signs of weakness around this bear. Instead, he banged together a couple trekking poles to generate noise and confusion. The bear backed off, he said, but it didn't leave.

So Ramsey pulled his sleeping bag out of the tent and started snapping that at the bear. That finally drove the bear off, he said.

But it came back. While Ramsey yelled, the bear tried to climb a nearby tree where the backpacker had stashed his food. Ramsey started chucking hunks of firewood at the bear.

He managed to keep it out of the food, but he couldn't intimidate it.

Only when a couple other hikers came up the trail with dogs did the bear move off again -- only to return when the group had passed, Ramsey said.

By then, Ramsey had packed up all his gear and headed out.

''It didn't show any tendency to back off,'' Ramsey said. ''That's what bothered me.''

That's also what is bothering park and wildlife officials.

With the Crow Pass Crossing set to send dozens of runners over the trail from Girdwood to Eagle River on Saturday, Chugach State Park superintendent Al Meiners is investigating Ramsey's encounter.

Rick Sinnott, area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, warned that if the bear behaved as Ramsey said, it should probably be shot before it hurts someone.

Identifying the animal in question could prove difficult. There are hundreds of black bears in the park. Ramsey said this one looked to be a 2- or 3-year-old -- a young, scrawny bear.

Meiners said signs are now going up at both ends of the Eagle River Trail to warn hikers of the bear.



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