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Southcentral bears are waking up; secure trash, store bird feeders

Tegan Hanlon

Sleepy-eyed bears will start to crawl out of their dens this month and patrol Anchorage, prompting biologists' annual announcement to the city: Take down your bird feeders, and secure the garbage cans.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has yet to record reports of human-animal conflict in Anchorage this season, but Dave Battle, an assistant area biologist, said he expects sightings "any day now."

"We really start seeing a lot of reports in May, but we usually get a few reports in April too," he said.

Steven Lewis, a 38-year-old South Anchorage resident, spotted a brown bear sprinting in front of his car and into nearby brush early Tuesday morning. "He looked like last year's cub," he said.

Lewis noticed three flipped garbage cans, including his own, in his neighborhood off Upper DeArmoun Road over the past two days. He suspects the fast-moving bear is the culprit.

Battle advised all Anchorage residents to keep trash inside or in bear-resistant garbage cans outside to avoid welcoming new bear neighbors. Also, he said, "in the summer months, bird feeders become bear feeders," so store those inside until late fall.

By the end of October, most black bears have retreated to their dens, while many brown bears begin hibernation in early November. This spring, Anchorage had an early melt, Battle said. As daytime temperatures sit above freezing and dens flood, more bears will start to move out, he said.

Battle compared a bear coming out of hibernation to a human who is unexpectedly awakened three hours before his or her alarm.

"You'll sort of mess around and maybe go back to sleep," he said. "It's not like [bears] hop right out of their den and they're up and going. They're slow starters."

If you happen to come face to face with a bear, don't run. Battle said, Talk loudly and start backing away slowly. If you have a jacket, wave it up high and make yourself appear larger than you are, he said. Carry bear spray on trails.

"Bear spray is so good because it's light. You can just put it on your belt," he said. "You don't have to be all that accurate with it. It's painful enough to put a bear into a flight response instead of a fight response."

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.

Fish and Game's "Living With Bears" website