Grizzly sow, cubs show up at Skyview football practice

Bears keep Panthers on their toes

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2001

Skyview Panthers football team, practicing what's known as the "bear crawl" drill got more than the usual demonstration Monday when a real bear appeared by the field.

"It didn't stand up until it got to the top of the hill, but it stopped and looked at us through the fence. I kind of wondered, what if the fence was not there?" said Greg Zorbas, assistant Skyview football coach. "She loped up to the top of the hill close to the birch trees, stood up, tore down a stump, and then she was gone."

But not far. The brown bear -- actually a sow with two cubs -- killed a moose Sunday near the gate that guards the high school driveway. Since then, the bear and her cubs have been seen several times in the area south of the driveway from the Sterling Highway to the woods behind the football and soccer fields.

Mike Crawford, a visitor from Kent, Wash., said he was talking to an Alaska State Trooper when a report of the bear came over the trooper's radio. He followed the trooper to the school, then watched one of the bears.

"I saw the bear last night," he said Monday. "I stayed until it got dark and watched the bear eating (the moose). He was ripping at it. You could hear the bones crunching ... "

Crawford said that bear looked like a 2-year-old cub. Shortly after it disappeared into the trees, he saw a sow and a cub in a meadow just west of the moose.

School grounds host Jim Ingram, of New Johnsonville, Tenn., has been watching the school during the summer and living in a motor home on the grounds. He was there Sunday evening when the sow killed the moose.

"The bear came across the highway and downed the moose over there," he said, pointing toward the driveway. "I didn't see it happen. I knew she'd come across the road. Then we saw some commotion in the woods. And there's been some activity in the school yard, too. ... She barked a tree by the kill."

Most of the bark from an ornamental tree just north of the driveway gate lay in shreds on the lawn. A broad patch of bark was missing from a spruce tree just south of the driveway where Ingram said the bear felled the moose.

Sunday evening, he and his wife, Carolyn, parked their car on the sidewalk by the driveway and watched the bear eating the moose.

"She was playing, eating, rolling on it, just like a big baby would do," he said. "She was just having herself a time. She'd roll up on her back, have all four feet in the air and be playing with the bushes."

Several hours later, he saw two cubs in the field nearby. The sow was still with the moose. He said he called the troopers, because he was worried that the bear might be a danger to joggers, skateboarders and others using the school grounds.

"They came and said as long as it wasn't bothering anything, they'd just let it ride. I guess that's what they do here. That's different," he said.

A similar incident in Tennessee would have attracted a greater response, he said.

"That's a little close to home to have it roaming around here. We're not used to that," he said. "We'd have like to have gotten that on video."

Coach Wade Marcuson said the bear showed up for football practice about 9:30 a.m. on Monday.

"The bear was milling around, tearing down stumps. It looked like she was having a good time," he said.

He said the players had just finished the bear crawl drill, and Zorbas used the opportunity.

"He said, 'We're going to stop for a moment. We've got a demonstration going on over here. That's what I want you to be -- low to the ground,'" Marcuson said.

Athletic director Dan Creel, who recently moved from Dillingham, saw the bear, too.

"He was up on this knoll ripping up stumps and popping his jaws. I contacted (the Department of Fish and Game). They told us don't go near the kill site," he said. "I think she's just defending her area."

This bear seems to be staking out an especially broad area, though.

"That's a little unusual. Fish and Game said they don't usually go more than 100 yards from the kill," Creel said. "I posted a bunch of signs to warn people. We don't need anybody jogging close to the woods."

Creel said he has not heard of any brown bear sightings on the Tsalteshi Trails just north of the school. However, the trails are close enough that the bears could turn up there. There have been black bears sighted on the trails, he said.

Marcuson said the school ground hosts contacted Assistant Principal Allan Miller on Sunday, and Miller contacted Creel. Creel said school officials met with Fish and Game biologists, who advised that trapping and relocating the bears would do little good, since relocated bears generally return quickly to their original stomping grounds.

Marcuson said he told the football players, about 70 students, that they have a special opportunity.

"We told the kids, 'you don't have too many football camps where you see a brown bear,'" he said. "We told the kids not to be over there, not to go looking for the kill, to stay together and to stay close to the building. I think as long as we're together and by the building, we're OK."

Tuesday morning, the team lined up at the foot of the hill by the field to practice the bear crawl drill -- a difficult all-fours scramble up and down the hill.

"You know exactly what it looks like, because you saw it first-hand," Zorbas told the players.

Players bellowed and roared as they scrambled up the hill.

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