Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bear Alert!

Early this week we got a call from a neighbor across the canyon. "A grizzly bear is hanging around our house. Make sure you kids get a ride up to the bus." Douglas always drives them up, so that was no problem, but it shook us out of our complacency.

We've known there have been bear hanging out all summer, as some of our neighbors have prowled about with their guns looking for it. However, we'd assumed it was a black bear since we ran into one nearby in early summer. Black bears don't bother us as much as "brownies" or "grizzlies". Just the afternoon before this call our kids were picking crowberries in the canyon. We know canyons are favorite places for bears--both to hang out and to hibernate. But we hadn't heard about one in the area for a few months, so I gave the kids the ok to go exploring. They'd come dashing back into the house for bags to pick crowberries in a big patch they found on the canyon wall, and headed right back out. Luckily Denver has a loud voice, so we all feel somewhat safer when he is with us warning the wildlife of our presence.

But the bear alert in the morning, along with some of our trash scattered about put us on high alert. We purchased a bear-proof trash can, we've taken to carrying our .44 when we go for walks and the kids haven't had the desire to go exploring lately despite beautiful sunshiny weather. We're counting down till the bears go into hibernation, which is any time now. Since the snow we had earlier in Octber is gone, it has just been cold. When bears go into hibernation varies depending on a number of factors, including food supply, elevation, temperature, whether it has cubs, and amount of snow covering their food supply.

We'd gotten complacent about wildlife alertness, so this has raised it in our consciousness. It doesn't feel that "wild" up here in Alaska now that we're used to it. This is a good reminder to stay alert and aware.


Anonymous said...

Carrying a gun is a good idea I guess, but there is an article on google put out by US Fish & Wildlife Service Fact Sheet No. 8 LIVING WITH GRIZZLIES: Bear Spray vs. Bullets which states that shooting a bear can escalate the seriousness of the attack. Persons suffer injury 50% of the time when defending themselves with firearms but when defending themselves with pepper spray they escape injury most of the time and the attacks are shorter and the injuries less severe. It is worth looking into by confirming this information as accurate. It's put out at their Mountain-Prairie Region, P.O. Box 25486, Lakewood Colorado 80225: website: It is vital to make plenty of noise with bells etc to let the bears know people are around as bears are the consumate control freaks and become enraged when startled or surprised. I hope rather than kill this hapless bear, that it can be relocated or just accepted by the neighborhood. I would like to see this happen more, and feeding stations could be set up where the bears can come and eat nourishing foods donated by an "adopt a grizzly" committee. I think people should stay in other areas also when grizzlies are around as hiking and camping are very risky and dangerous. As much as I love bears, I wouldn't want to be within 15 miles of one outside of a locked vehicle.
Submitted by Karen V. Stefanini, Back Bay, Boston, MA

Michelle Waclawski said...

The chances of our being attacked by a bear are pretty slim, as when we walk we're in a group of 4 and always making plenty of noise. The gun is a last resort; it is not our desire to kill a bear. But if we're walking on the road in a group making a lot of noise and it attacks, chances are it is an aggressive bear.

Different sources vary in their preference for guns or pepper spray. Some say the pepper spray won't stop an attack--only a .44 with bear bullets can actually stop a bear. I've seen pepper spray make a bear fall out of a tree, but I don't know if pepper spray will really stop a full charge.

My guess is the Fish & Wildlife Service's goal is to keep bear alive, so they would promote the pepper spray. The other added dimension of shooting a bear is that if you hit it but don't kill it, it often becomes an aggressive bear with an injury. Too many mean bear have been found with old slugs in them.

And whatever we do, we will never, ever feed a bear for ANY reason. That's an invitation for them to come back. There's plenty of food around; they can find it themselves in the natural way.

Anonymous said...

The fact that there aren't more confrontations between people and bears is amazing. What brought the suggestion about leaving food for the bears (I should have said at feeding stations well away from homes and out in the middle of the wilderness for them to prevent starvation during lean years as their habitats are being destroyed so rapidly) was that I read a heartbreaking article on Russian brownbears and how fragile their existences are since they depend on an evergreen type of tree for sustenance and when it fails they often roam around during the winter months rather than hibernate looking for food and frequently starve to death. It said that is when they attack livestock and people, out of desperation. What a heartbreaking situation...and rural Russia is very difficult for people to endure as I have read the life expectancy is very low and they have regressed back to almost preindustrial standards as to food availability and healthcare. It is dreadful over there I guess for people in rural areas. I doubt they have any extra food to spare for those magnificent brown bears that often stand an awe inspiring 10'-12'! They are spectacular and actually have been considered quite docile by researchers before they started to be hunted and harassed by people. I have no business sense nor ambition so I have offered my art on WEBSHOTS (karenvstefanini) for environmental and bear protection fund raising.

Submitted by: Karen V. Stefanini, Back Bay, Boston, MA

Anonymous said...

In every community there should be a "bear aware" committee run by you and your neighbors. It's nice that you bought a bear proof garbage can, but you bought after the fact. The bear has already been familiarized with garbage in that neighborhood. I am certainly not suggesting that you were the first culprit but if you say you just bought one, I can only assume it is not mandatory to have one. You should head up this committee. This kind of thing should be stopped BEFORE it happens, not after.
A lot of people just have such a hard time trusting in bear spray. Dr. Tom Smith is a well known biologist who specializes in bears. I highly recommend you read the report. Several people in Yellowstone failed to do so, or if they did, ignored it, relying on what they deemed they were most comfortable with, a gun. Neither one of them (hunters) had time to engage their gun properly in order too make a mortal hit. Both men were mauled and both of the incidences could have been avoided had they had bear spray. Also another good thing to note is that there are usually a group of hunters and one is the main target for a surprise attack. If you were that man, would you want your buddy aiming a gun at the bear you are rolling around with or bear spray?

Michelle Waclawski said...

Yes, we did buy a can after the fact, though we're not even sure it was a bear who was in it. There are local cats, dogs, birds, etc. that get into trash cans too. So we may be ahead of things.

Guns in Yellowstone?? Since when were guns allowed in a National Park? I used to live there and backpacked there extensively, which is where we learned bear safety tips. As newcomers to Alaska, it seems we practice more bear safety things than any of the locals who have lived here all their lives.

And yes, hunters are often the target of bear attacks, which makes sense since they are providing "easy food." Since we don't hunt, that is one less situation we are potentially involved with bears. As for pepper spray or a gun, I don't know if I want either aimed at me--or anyone!

Anonymous said...

The Yellowstone eco system is huge and goes beyond the boudaries of the Park itself, where hunting is allowed. For instance the town of Gardiner is a stones away from the gate of the park. Which, is where these "accidents" occurred.