Trail closed that leads to Barrow polar bears

Posted: Tuesday, September 17, 2002

BARROW (AP) -- The local village corporation in Barrow has closed the trail to Point Barrow at the end of the road north of the old Naval Arctic Research Laboratory.

That's because the trail leads to a record number of 60 polar bears that continue to take residence around Barrow. The bears are camped out about two miles past the start of the trail.

Craig George of the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, said the trail was closed to prevent off-road vehicles from carrying tourists out to see the bears.

In past years, the bears have congregated out toward the Point, feeding at whale bone piles, but would rarely venture closer to Barrow. But this year, there were more sightings and encounters in and around town, he said. No residents have been injured.

''The thinking was that all the tourists going by this year might be disrupting the bears and sending some of them back into town,'' George said.

He said since the trail was closed there have been fewer bears in town.

''We had been getting four to six calls a day about polar bears,'' he said Saturday, ''but since the trail was closed off, the number of calls is way down.''

George said during the last big polar bear gathering around Barrow in 1992 there were about 30 to 40 bears sighted. To his knowledge, 60 bears is a record number.

On Saturday, about 40 residents attended a presentation on how to better live with polar bears. The seminar was held at the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp. Science Center at the old Naval Arctic Research Laboratory.

George told the standing room only crowd that polar bears feed primarily on seals, but they have been known to attack beluga whales and walrus as well. And they can also be scavengers and eat carrion, he said.

''If there is a superabundant food source around, normally solitary bears will congregate,'' he said.

George warned the public to be careful but keep the bear situation in perspective. ''They can be dangerous,'' he said, ''but statistically not as dangerous as four-wheelers or snow machines.''

''Look around when you step out,'' George said. ''Don't assume that you are safe because you are in town. And you always want to see the bear before it sees you.''

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