Seward bear attack leads to review of nearby weir

Mike Campbell

After a brown bear swatted a 12-year-old Seward boy on his way to school Tuesday morning, a proposal to remove the nearby Bear Creek fish weir is being revived.

Doug McRae Sr., a member of the Seward Fish and Game Advisory Committee, first sent the proposal to the state Game Board two years ago, warning that the weir's proximity to area homes and a trailer park was "a disaster waiting to happen."

McRae estimated 80 to 100 homes are within a half mile of the weir, which was built in the 1960s near Mile 7 of the Seward Highway. Tuesday's incident occurred about 200 yards from the weir, he estimated.

"When they built the weir," McRae said, "nobody lived out here." This summer, 12 to 14 brown bears were identified at or near the weir, he maintained. Seven were counted fishing at one time.

"The local residents are very concerned for their safety. To say the least, this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed before someone is hurt."

The weir is intended to monitor salmon swimming to and from Bear Lake. A 150-foot-long wooden tripod and aluminum picket affair, the weir is located some 15 miles upstream of the river mouth.

Bear Lake supports the largest red salmon run in the area, averaging 368,000 fish over the past 10 years. This year's weir count included:

• 360,000 red salmon;

• 865 pink salmon;

• 9,034 king salmon.

Because of a 1989 agreement with the state, the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association operates and maintains the weir.

But Justin Schutter, the 12-year-old boy slightly injured by the grizzly sow on Tuesday, said the bear that charged him was focused on berries, not fish, when he startled it in the pre-dawn darkness.

"She was trying to get into a neighbor's mountain ash trees for the berries," he said.

Melissa Schutter, Justin's mom, is skeptical the weir attracts many bears.

"I disagree with what people are saying about the weir," she said on Wednesday. "This was the first time we've ever had an incident. I've seen bears in the neighborhood, but I've also seen them in town. And this year, I haven't seen any bears in the neighborhood all summer.

"The bear that went after my son was feeding on berries in a tree. Should I tell my neighbors to cut down their tree? No. The only reason my son is alive is that he knew what do."

Dan Bosch, area fish biologist for Fish and Game, said because it's so late in the season he didn't think there were any fish near the weir in the early days of November.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at or 257-4329.

OUTDOORS BLOG: Read Justin Schutter's account of his encounter
Municipal Bear Aware site