An Outdoor View: Getting along with bears

Author’s note: The Clarion first published this column on Aug. 11, 2006. It has been edited it for brevity. — LP

I live in a subdivision near the Kenai River in Sterling. In summer, my neighborhood is busy with people and vehicles coming and going, so it’s not the sort of place you’d expect to see a bear. However, despite all the human activity in this neighborhood, a bear recently pulled down a flower box that had been hanging on the wall of my house.

This was the second time in three years that a bear pulled down that flower box. I suppose it could’ve been the same bear, but over the years, bears have stolen salmon eggs, bitten holes in my plastic gasoline containers and tipped over my smokehouse and barbecue. And yet, despite all this, I like having them around.

I’m no expert on bear behavior, but in my 40-some years in Alaska, I’ve learned some things about them. One is that there are very few “problem” bears. Their main “problem” is that they have only about six months to fatten up for winter hibernation, so they must constantly search for food.

Bears are good at finding food. Like us, they’re omnivorous — they’ll eat most anything. They can smell carrion from miles away. They know within a few days when certain plants and berries are ready to eat, and where to find them. If a female bear learned from its mother that salmon can be caught at a certain creek at a certain time, her cubs will learn from her. Bears don’t get enough credit for their natural intelligence.

On the other hand, a young bear doesn’t have to be very smart to learn how to bluff an angler out of a fish, or a hiker out of a backpack. Some people are so terrified of bears, they back away when one approaches, thoughtlessly leaving food behind — salmon on a stringer, a lunch in a backpack, food in a cooler. The bear might’ve done nothing threatening. It simply walked in the human’s direction, and was rewarded with food. A few such successes, and the animal loses its natural fear of humans. Without the tendency to avoid human contact, it becomes dangerous and usually ends up being shot.

Here are some ways to avoid teaching bears to link food to humans, and to stay safe in bear country:

— Don’t teach bears that human food or garbage is an easy meal.

— Avoid taking anything that smells like food into your tent, including boots or clothing that smell of fish.

— When bears hear a fish make splashing noises, they know it’s in trouble and can sometimes be caught. “Playing” a fish will at times attract a bear. If a bear approaches, cut your line or break the fish off, stand your ground, and the bear will usually lose interest and leave. If it doesn’t leave, back slowly away.

— If you fillet fish, cut the carcasses into hand-size pieces and throw them into fast water, so they’ll wash downstream. Whole carcasses in the water attract bears, like the two juveniles that have been hanging around the lower Russian River all summer.

— Never run from a bear. You can’t outrun one, and running may trigger a chase.

— Camping near spawning streams is just asking for trouble, especially if any bears that consider humans as providers of food are around.

— Everywhere in Alaska is “bear country.” Be alert.

— Walking in tall grass or bushes along a salmon spawning stream can be hazardous. The noise of rushing water and wind in the trees can mask the sound of your approach. To err on the safe side, be noisy when traveling, especially when visibility is limited.

— For your own safety, for the safety of others and for the good of the bears, learn all you can about bear behavior. Without bears, Alaska just wouldn’t be Alaska.

For more about bears, visit the Alaska Department of Wildlife Conservation website (http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.main). Or pick up a free brochure at the Department of Fish and Game offices at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Soldotna.

More in Life

File
Minister’s Message: The way life will be

“Is this the way it was all meant to be? Is this what God had in mind when He created us?”

Photo provided by Art We There Yet
José Luis Vílchez and Cora Rose with their retired school bus-turned-art and recording studio.
‘It’s all about people’

Traveling artists depict Kenai Peninsula across mediums

Promotional Photo courtesy Pixar Animation/Walt Disney Studios
In Disney and Pixar’s “Inside Out 2,” Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith), Anger (voice of Lewis Black), Fear (voice of Tony Hale) and Disgust (voice of Liza Lapira) aren’t sure how to feel when Anxiety (voice of Maya Hawke) shows up unexpectedly. Directed by Kelsey Mann and produced by Mark Nielsen, “Inside Out 2” releases only in theaters Summer 2024.
On the Screen: ‘Inside Out 2’ a bold evolution of Pixar’s emotional storytelling

Set only a year after the events of the first film, “Inside Out 2” returns viewers to the inner workings of pre-teen Riley

Calvin Fair, in his element, on Buck Mountain, above Chief Cove on Kodiak Island, in October 1986. His hunting partner and longtime friend Will Troyer captured this image while they were on one of the duo’s annual deer-hunting trips. (Photo courtesy of the Fair Family Collection)
The Road Not Taken: A tribute to my father’s career choice

For the first 40 years of my life, I saw my father professionally as a dentist. Period.

Edward Burke is ordained a transitional deacon by Archbishop Andrew E. Bellisario at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Photo provided by Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church)
Kenai’s Catholic Church hosts diaconate ordination

The event was attended by roughly 300 people, nearly a dozen priests and deacons and the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau

Rhubarb custard cake is ready to be baked. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Rhubarb and running to lift the spirits

Frozen rhubarb just won’t do for this tart and beautiful custard cake, so pick it fresh wherever you can find it

File
Minister’s Message: Prioritizing prayer

I am thankful I can determine to pray about choices and circumstances

Will Morrow (courtesy)
The adventure continues

I rolled into Kenai for what was going to be just a three- to five-year adventure

Little Family photo courtesy of the Soldotna Historical Society
Ira Little poses in the doorway of the cabin he recently completed with the help of his buddy, Marvin Smith, in the winter of 1947-48. The cabin stood on a high bank above the Kenai River in the area that would soon be known as Soldotna.
Bound and Determined: The Smith & Little Story — Part 2

On Dec. 19, 1947, Smith and Little had filed on adjoining homesteads

Most Read