A brown bear frequenting popular spots along the Seward Highway and the Turnagain Arm Trail is showing signs of being uncomfortable with the picture-snapping humans who have come far too close in recent days, park and wildlife officials said.
On Monday, Chugach State Park rangers posted warning signs along the Turnagain Arm Trail and at the Rainbow parking lot about the bear. Rangers and biologists said they think the same bear has been spotted since April at various points between the McHugh Creek trail head at Mile 112 and the Rainbow trail head at Mile 108.
The signs indicate the bear "bluff-charged" hikers twice.
"Be prepared for encounter," the sign warns.
People have been getting dangerously close to the bear, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game assistant area wildlife biologist Dave Battle.
"This is really more of a people problem than anything," he said.
The bear looks like a young adult, said Battle.
Wildlife biologists are keeping a close eye on the bear's activities but haven't been able to see the animal themselves yet.
But what they've heard is disturbing.
A couple of weeks ago, Chugach State Park superintendent Tom Harrison said someone dumped some old salmon at a turnout just south of McHugh Creek.
It's not known whether the fish was intentionally dumped to bait the bear or not, Battle said. But it attracted the bear.
Last weekend, things escalated when a crowd of a 10 to 15 people gathered to watch and photograph the bear at the Rainbow trail head parking lot.
Michael Brown, a volunteer camp host with Chugach State Park, was there.
People were outside their cars and 20-30 feet from the bear, he said. Some were taking pictures with point-and-shoot cameras. He said he saw at least one person holding a baby.
It all seemed like a very bad idea to Brown, who just moved to Alaska from Washington state.
"You see that and go, 'Really?' " Brown said.
What the would-be wildlife photographers didn't realize was the bear was likely attracted to the carcass of a dog that had been dumped in a nearby ditch between the parking lot and the road, said Battle.
Park rangers hazed the bear with rubber bullets to get it to leave the area.
Wildlife officials later removed the dog carcass.
The "bluff-charging," which could be more of a defensive gesture than an aggressive one, is a sign the bear is showing that it is uncomfortable with people, Battle said.
For the safety of the bear and the public, people should stay far away from the animal, he said. Getting out of a car and taking pictures is dangerous and irresponsible, he said. The bear is a wild animal. In this circumstance, intentional feeding of a bear would be a Class A Misdemeanor.
"The state takes it very seriously," Battle said.
People should also remember, he said, that the area along the Turnagain Arm is prime bear habitat and human visitors are encountering the animal in its own home.
"This is an entirely avoidable situation if people would just be a bit more responsible," he said.
Some had speculated that the bear is Shaguyik, the 2-year-old Kodiak brown bear that escaped from the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in April, because of its apparent comfort with people.
AWCC staffers who have seen the bear have confirmed that it is not, Battle said.
Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4344.