Bears out and about in Anchorage

Michelle Theriault Boots
Mark Thiessen

Snow turns to slush. Days get warmer. Bears wake up.

Every year by mid-April Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jessy Coltrane gets the year's first report of a bear sighting in Anchorage.

By the first day of May the summer's bear frenzy will have begun in earnest. Coltrane and her two assistants will spend the season mediating encounters between the city's human and ursine residents, sometimes with a shotgun.

Last year's bear season ended with unusually-late-in-the-year raids on Hillside chicken coops and some brazen attempted garage break-ins by one or two grizzly bears in the Stuckagain Heights neighborhood in early November.

Coltrane said black bears have been spotted in the vicinity of Far North Bicentennial Park in recent days. No major incidents have been reported in the city yet.

More bears should leave their dens this week, she said.

She's trying to head off wildlife photographers who congregate around secret spots where bears are known to den.

Fish and Game biologists would like photographers to keep their distance.

On Sunday, Coltrane spoke to two dozen people at the Eagle River Nature Center who'd gathered for a "Living and Recreating in Bear Country" presentation.

She reminded the audience that pretty much everything in the Anchorage Bowl that isn't rock or ice can be considered bear habitat. She repeated her usual admonitions: keep garbage secure and put away birdseed from April to Halloween. For those who insist on keeping chickens in bear country, she asked that they learn how to use an electric fence properly. (An often-neglected first step is turning the fence on, she said.) And please don't dump fish guts. People have emptied coolers at trail heads.

"People actually do that," she said, shaking her head.

Most of the problems that lead to bears being killed are caused by people leaving garbage, birdseed, plump chickens and other items bears find irresistible in their yards.

Serena Boss, a nurse who just moved to Anchorage from Portland, Ore., sat in the audience.

She lives in Airport Heights, not known for its bear activity. But with bears awakening, a walk in the Alaska woods carries a new weight.

"I'm picking my places (to recreate) more judiciously," she said.


Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at or 257-4344.