A brown bear circles a backyard chicken coop, stands on its hind legs and bangs forcefully against the side of the structure over and over again, using its paws to tear at a piece of paneling.
A black bear saunters past a children’s outdoor play set, poking its head inside before walking up to a deck nearby.
A sow lumbers across a driveway with two cubs in tow. Another black bear balances atop a red fence.
Bear sightings in Anchorage abound on social media.
Check Nextdoor or Facebook, and grainy security camera footage or a zoomed-in photo of a bear wandering down an alleyway or bike path or front yard is almost sure to pop up if you scroll long enough.
The platforms are a tool for residents and wildlife officials alike. Posting those videos, photos and updates provides an added safety measure, alerting neighbors to potential hazards nearby.
While social media might make it seem like there are more bear encounters than ever in Anchorage, a local wildlife official said that isn’t the case, though some neighborhoods might be seeing more activity than others: Bear-centric social media posts are just making sightings more public.
Misty Nemec, who lives in the Mountain View neighborhood, recently posted a note on her neighborhood’s Nextdoor feed about two young black bears, including one that climbed over her fence.
Kids live nearby, and she said she wanted to give people in the neighborhood a heads up. Of course, Anchorage is bear country, which means everyone should be bear aware, she said. But posting helps let people know more specifically about which bears might be close.
“How can you be bear aware if you don’t know the bear is there?” Nemec said.
Steve Conway recently posted a screenshot of a big brown bear spotted in Kincaid Park. He’s used the park year round to ski, bike, canoe and walk for some 20 years, he said, and posted as a way to give others a heads up.
“That’s the first large photo of a grizzly I’ve seen in Kincaid,” Conway said.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also uses platforms like Nextdoor to warn specific neighborhoods of problems, said Dave Battle, the agency’s Anchorage area biologist.
Even though videos and posts of bears scurrying across driveways and loping through backyards are abundant on social media, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are more bear issues in Anchorage this summer, according to Battle.
Anchorage has always had bear-human conflicts. But even six or eight years ago, no one would have known about many of them except for the people involved in the issue and wildlife officials if they were notified, Battle said.
“Now, everybody seems to post every bear sighting and every conflict they have,” Battle said. “And so there is a very strong perception that things are worse than they ever have been, when I don’t think that’s the case.”
Battle said he doesn’t want to minimize concerns about bear conflicts.
One area might have more conflicts than normal. Bear hot spots in the city can really vary from summer to summer, usually due to someone in the neighborhood leaving bird feeders up or not securing their trash, which draws in bears and creates a problem for everyone nearby, Battle said.
“One year, people in a particular neighborhood will be telling us, ‘Oh, we’ve never had this many bear conflicts,’ ” Battle said. “And then the next year, we practically won’t hear anything from that area and the hot spot will have moved.”
Fish and Game tracks wildlife conflicts in a digital database, which it began using in 2017. And while the database shows differences from one year to another, the overall number of reports hasn’t been increasing, he said.
In recent years, 2017 and 2018 stand out as especially heavy years for bear conflicts, Battle said, while 2019 “was practically like a vacation.” The past two years have been pretty normal, he said.
Dawn Anderson lives on the Hillside near South High School and Rabbit Creek, which means bears aren’t uncommon in the neighborhood. When her family moved in four years ago, Anderson said, she installed cameras.
She is a distance runner and wakes up early to run some mornings, so Anderson checks the camera to see if anything sauntered through the yard.
“And then I feel a little bit better,” Anderson said. “But I still wear bear spray and clap and sing in the morning by myself when I’m running down the road.”
Anderson recently posted a video from one of the cameras in the Facebook group Anchorage Bear Tracker, which is overflowing with doorbell and phone videos of local bear sightings this time of year.
Her neighbors include several families with young children, and she said posting is a way to help spread the word that there might be bears in the area.
“I feel like a neighborhood watch,” Anderson said. “But maybe neighborhood watch with bears.”
She also shows the videos to her own kids, three of whom are high school students and walk through the woods to get to South High. One night, Anderson’s son rode past a camera on his bicycle around 12:24 a.m. At 12:28 a.m. a bear wandered past, she said.
“I hope it impresses my kids too,” Anderson said. “Like ‘Hey, you know, like, two minutes from when you walked by the camera, a bear walked by the camera. Remember that they’re out there. And please don’t wear your freaking headphones.’ ”