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10 days after bear mauling, JBER runner remains in hospital

Craig Medred

Ten days after a runner was mauled by a grizzly bear on the trails of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on the edge of Anchorage, she remains hospitalized at the Alaska Native Medical Center in the city.

"She's recuperating,'' U.S. Army Alaska spokesman John Pennell said Tuesday.

Military officials have refused to release the woman's name or age, but Pennell said the Army hopes she will agree to an interview soon.

"The reason that she's not talking is her choice, not ours,'' he said.

The woman is described as a "military dependent'' who was out jogging with her husband prior to the bear attack. After he ran ahead on the trail, she apparently surprised a sow with a cub or cubs and was attacked. Details remain sketchy.

"Ultimately,'' U.S. Air Force spokesman Jim Hart said in an email Tuesday, "(base wildlife officials) weren't able to determine the number or age of the cubs."

BEARS FREQUENT BASE TRAILS

Wildlife biologists say the age of the cubs often has an effect on the behavior of sow grizzly bears. They tend to be far more protective of small cubs of the year than they are of older yearlings. Alaska grizzly cubs generally stay with their mothers at least two summers.

During that time, the animals roam home ranges that vary from tens to hundreds of square miles. Chance encounters with these bears are possible anywhere in the Anchorage area or the surrounding Chugach Mountains.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game bear biologist Sean Farley studied grizzly bears about a decade ago on what were then Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base, now combined into JBER. As part of that study, he radio-collared and satellite-tracked many bears. He discovered the animals used base trails much as humans do.

"And they didn't really preferentially use these at night only when people weren't there," he warned those on base in May 2008. "You can go down there, and it's very easy to find day beds."

"Day beds'' are where bears curl up on the ground to nap. These beds are not unusual along trails anywhere on JBER or in Anchorage's Far North Bicentennial Park. Bears that Farley tagged on JBER regularly roamed into that park, and Farley found about 20 bears using Bicentennial Park regularly.

MOOSE DANGEROUS, TOO

That knowledge and the JBER attack has left local wildlife biologists warning people they should be "bear aware'' wherever they travel on trails in the Anchorage area. It is a warning that probably should now be extended to being "wildlife aware,'' given that moose attacks have begun in the area. A mountain biker in Kincaid Park this week recorded what appears to be this year's first video of someone coming close to getting stomped by a protective mother moose.

Several people were seriously injured in moose attacks in the park last spring, though moose seldom do as much damage with their hoofs as bears do with fangs and claws.

The advice if either a moose or a grizzly bear knocks you off the bike or otherwise gets you on the ground is to curl into a ball with your fingers locked behind your neck to help protect your head. Then play dead until the animal leaves.

It is worth noting this is decidedly what not to do if attacked by a black bear, however. Black bear attacks on people are very rare, but when they happen, they are often predatory. The bear is trying to make a meal of you and the last thing you should do is cooperate.

The good news is that no one has been seriously injured by a black bear in the Anchorage area, and most victims of grizzly attacks survive.

The woman at Elmendorf managed to walk about a mile to find help after she was mauled. A good Samaritan picked her up and took her to the base hospital.

 


By CRAIG MEDRED
cmedred@alaskadispatch.com