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Bears not ready to den

Ongoing food source keeps bruins from hibernating

Posted: Tuesday, November 28, 2000

The days are short, but the bears are not sleeping.

"We were just doing caribou surveys. There were brown bear tracks along Funny River, Moose Creek, the Bear Creek area -- anywhere on the (Tustumena) bench," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna.

Last week, a Fish and Wildlife Protection trooper saw numerous brown bear tracks along Hidden Creek. Sport fish biologists with Fish and Game saw a brown bear on the upper Kenai River. Several Federal Aviation Administration workers reported seeing a brown bear in the Swanson River area, said Robin West, manager of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. A refuge employee found brown bear tracks in Clam Gulch.

Two weeks ago, a Sterling resident found a black bear and its cub on his porch, Lewis said. There also were reports of brown bears on the Resurrection River trail above Exit Glacier.

"We still have salmon swimming in our streams," said biologist Bill Shuster with the U.S. Forest Service in Seward. "As long as we have a food resource, I think the bears will stay out."

Brown bears usually den up in early November, Shuster said, and black bears den up earlier. However, he said, there are still salmon in the Resurrection River, in Tern Lake by the Seward Y and likely in tributaries of the Russian River.

"If there are salmon still about, there are going to be bears," he said.

Even after brown bears go to their dens, they sleep only lightly. Lewis said biologists have fitted brown bears with collars that contain heart monitors. The bears' heart rates rise when people approach their dens and slow after the people leave.

Brown bears may leave their dens, even in midwinter. Usually, the brown bears seen during winter are young males, he said.

"It's not uncommon when you go flying or skiing to find tracks," West said. "Some bears will stay out all winter. In tough winters, when lots of moose are dying, there's plenty of carrion. They can dig up salmon carcasses along the river. They can still kill an animal if they can catch one."

Shuster said many Kodiak Island bears den up only during big storms.

"If there's an open winter, they'll stay out," he said.

They feed on food such as deer, salmon carcasses and whale carcasses that wash up on Kodiak beaches.

Lewis said Kenai Peninsula bears den everywhere from the lowest swamp lands to the highest mountains.

"When there is a series of thaws and freezes, bears can get flooded out of their dens if they've chosen poor locations," he said. "In winter, brown bears will come out and hang around near their dens. Assume there is always the possibility of running into one."



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