Wildlife biologists shot and killed a black bear near the Campbell Creek estuary in South Anchorage Thursday while investigating a report that a man was critically injured in a suspected bear mauling nearby the night before.
Anchorage police first got a report of the injured man shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday. The 911 caller said the man had come out of the woods near a private driveway, close to the intersection of Edinburgh and Selkirk drives near an entrance to Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, the city's newest park, according to Jennifer Castro, Anchorage Police Department spokesperson. Castro said the man had "multiple wounds and was bleeding."
"The caller stated the male was barely responsive and looked like he may have been cut with a knife," Castro said.
The man was taken to the hospital in critical condition, with injuries to his head, neck and chest. Medical staff said it appeared his wounds likely came from a bear, not a knife, according to Castro.
"His injuries were primarily to the front of his body and he did not appear to have any defensive wounds," she said.
Police did not release the man's name Thursday. Castro said the man remained in critical condition Thursday evening and police had not yet spoken with him because of his extensive injuries.
Castro said police believe the man was mauled by a bear based on the medical staff treating him and evidence found in the woods.
"There was marking in the dirt that looked like he had been dragged by something large," she said.
A second report of a bear near the driveway came around 10 a.m. Thursday, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Ken Marsh. Marsh said the bear appeared to be "fearless" as it approached a resident, who backed into his house at the end of the driveway off Selkirk Drive.
Dave Battle, one of several Fish and Game biologists who responded to the scene, said he saw the bear as the biologists traveled down the driveway, which winds through thick woods. Campbell Creek itself loops beside trees and brush until it opens to a coastal wetland of grasses and marsh.
"We had gone into the woods looking for the bear, hoping to find it," Battle said. "It came out right to the edge of the road; it ran off a few yards into the road and stood up on its hind legs to put its paws against a tree."
A biologist shot the bear around 10:30 a.m., about 150 yards southeast of the trailhead along the private driveway, in the same area where the suspected mauling occurred, Marsh said. He said the bear was killed with a single shot from a 12-gauge shotgun.
Speaking at the scene Thursday, Marsh said that there wasn't yet any confirmation whether the bear shot Thursday morning was the cause of the injuries suffered by the man Wednesday. He said biologists also saw a moose with two calves in the the area Thursday. While Marsh said he saw mashed-down grass and some blood in the woods, there was nothing that indicated the mauling was "absolutely" connected to a bear.
"We still don't know that this was the bear involved," he said.
But Marsh said with a person hospitalized and initial reports that the injuries were consistent with a bear mauling, Fish and Game could not take a chance with the black bear. It was a public safety concern. It had to be put down, he said.
Two runners who live in the area, Stacy Dayley and Laura Johnston, said they spotted bear scat in Johnston's yard Wednesday night. Their sons had taken a walk in the area that evening.
"I feel a little scared for all these people here," Dayley said. "You don't think of that happening right here."
Both women said they planned to take precautions after reading of the suspected mauling.
"We might have to get some bear spray," Johnston said.
Battle said there were no signs the dead black bear, a small sow, was accompanied by cubs or had been nursing.
"We didn't find anything right around the scene — we didn't find any bear hair," Battle said of the area where the suspected mauling had taken place. "There is a fairly large pool of blood and a splotch of blood just inside the woods, so hopefully we'll be able to find out what happened."
Battle said the bear was shot under Fish and Game policy on wildlife incidents in which a person has been injured.
"We're kind of trusting what the doctor said — the doctor said he was 90, 95 percent certain that it was a bear," Battle said. "In a situation like this, where a bear has attacked a person, we have to assume it was this bear."
But Battle declined to say he was confident the dead bear had injured the man. Officials planned to compare DNA samples of materials found on the victim with samples from the bear.
"If the victim wakes up and says, 'No, it wasn't a bear,' we won't go through all that," Battle said. "It depends on what happens going forward."
Marsh said Thursday evening an initial necropsy on the bear showed it had birdseed in its stomach. That could mean the bear was conditioned to human-supplied food and may explain why it didn't appear to fear people and run away, he said.
Marsh said Fish and Game had not received recent reports from neighbors about any nuisance bears. The Campbell Creek estuary, however, is near the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge and wildlife tend to use the greenbelt as a thoroughfare, he said.
Marsh said bear maulings close to Anchorage neighborhoods are rare. He couldn't remember the last one, but noted the series of attacks years ago on Rover's Run — a 2-mile stretch of trail along the South Fork Campbell Creek in Bicentennial Park on the Hillside. In 2010, an Anchorage man commuting to work on his bicycle was severely injured by a bear. Two years earlier, two women were attacked by bears on the same trail.
"Bears can turn up just about anywhere in the Anchorage area," he said. "We've got bear, we've got moose, we've just got to be alert."
While each attack is different, there are trends, he said. Brown bears tend to try to neutralize a threat, he said. The National Park Service says people who are attacked by brown bears should play dead. Marsh said black bears tend to run away from humans, but not always.
"A black bear attack is more likely to be predatory in nature than a brown bear attack," he said. "Sometimes a black bear will actually stalk and go out if its way to attack a human."