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Wildlife

Park rangers kill black bear near Seward that went ‘face to face’ with hikers

Park rangers Tuesday killed an aggressive black bear along a popular hiking trail in Kenai Fjords National Park out of Seward.

The National Park Service said it received a report of “a large aggressive black bear that was threatening and had possibly injured park visitors” on the Harding Icefield Trail around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Rangers carrying firearms and bear spray responded, along with Alaska State Troopers, other park staff and Bear Creek Fire and Rescue personnel who searched for the hikers.

Kenai Fjords law enforcement rangers encountered a black bear that “was aggressive and refusing to give way” about 1.5 miles up the trail, which is in the portion of the park near Exit Glacier.

“Rangers hazed the bear, but the animal would not leave the site,” the National Park Service said in a statement. “Because rangers were concerned for the safety of the possible victims, they were forced to euthanize the animal.”

Rangers found two uninjured hikers farther up the 4.1-mile trail who were “waiting to be escorted by park staff to safety,” according to the park service. Rangers removed the bear’s carcass, which the park planned to donate to charity so the meat may be salvaged, park officials said.

Matt Levy of Port Angeles, Wash., leads hikers to Marmot Meadows, about 1.4 miles up the Harding Icefield Trail, on July 2, 2016. (Vicky Ho / ADN archive)

Another group of hikers, visiting from the Lower 48, said they encountered the bear around 9:45 a.m. Tuesday and spent a harrowing 10 or 15 minutes trying to get past it before getting to safety.

The hikers carried no bear spray, one said, so they resorted to yelling and then throwing rocks to try to get the bear to back off.

The three men first spotted the bear as they headed up the partly snow-covered trail, said 25-year-old Bryan Jackisch, a resident of Houston, Texas. The men, all engineers in their 20s, know each other from college and were visiting Alaska this week.

Jackisch first spotted the animal, which he described as a black bear around 300 pounds, in trees near the trail. He’d encountered bears hiking in Big Bend National Park, but they backed off once they spotted people.

This bear started “creeping” toward his group, Jackisch said. They started yelling, but the bear kept coming, getting within 30 or 40 feet. Then the bear turned away, he said. So the trio reversed course and headed back down the trail.

That’s when the situation escalated.

“We turned around and the bear is running at us, down the trail,” Jackisch said.

The group decided to find solid footing on the icy trail and stand their ground. The bear stopped about 20 or 25 feet away, he said. It was just standing there, not growling. “It just seemed more curious in what we were doing,” Jackisch said.

The men started taking turns yelling at the bear while the others moved down the trail. But after two or three of those standoffs, the bear had gotten within about 15 feet and was “face to face” with the men, he said.

That’s when they decided to change their strategy and began throwing rocks.

“That seemed to deter him,” Jackisch said. He kept one larger rock in his hand, in case the bear did attack.

Instead, the men were able to slide down a snowy section as the bear stayed back. They ran down the mountain trail, warning other groups below about the bear. Then they told rangers about what happened and got in their vehicle, still in shock.

“It was pretty terrifying, I gotta say,” Jackisch said.

They didn’t know what happened to the bear -- and that no one was apparently injured -- until they saw news reports Wednesday morning.

“I was sad to see that the bear had to be put down. I don’t know what options they had,” he said. “But it was dangerous. There were a lot of hikers up on that mountain. ... To say it was aggressive would not be an overstatement.”

The incident temporarily closed the trail, which switchbacks up steep, densely vegetated terrain before ascending above tree line.

The Park Service urged hikers in bear country to travel in groups, make their presence known, give bears a wide berth, carry bear spray, avoid areas where carcasses may be located and avoid attracting bears with food or trash.

Jackisch and his friends planned a hike in the Hatcher Pass area near Palmer on Wednesday. They’re carrying bear spray this time.

“I never thought a bear would just keep coming like that,” he said.

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