A woman was injured Sunday night when a black bear swatted at her in what wildlife officials called a highly unusual encounter on Anchorage’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
It’s extremely rare for bears to interact with humans on the city’s extensive urban trail system, said Dave Battle, Anchorage area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
The woman, a tourist, was walking around 6 p.m. near Mile 7 of the trail, in the Point Woronzof area near a runway of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport where people park to watch planes take off and land.
A bicyclist stopped to tell the woman there was a bear ahead, Battle said.
The woman and bicyclist first saw the bear when it was about 50 yards away, he said. It kept walking down the trail in their direction even as they retreated. The bear then went into the woods but continued walking parallel to the trail at a distance of roughly 25 yards, he said.
“The victim felt that the bear had stopped walking in her direction, so she stopped at this sign that was alongside the trail and then the bear popped out at the sign,” Battle said. “And the victim and the bear circled the sign for several minutes. The lady was trying to keep the sign between her and the bear.”
The bear swatted at her several times and made contact twice, he said. The woman was alone when she stopped at the sign, but Battle said there were several people nearby when the bear approached. More passersby arrived and began to make noise, which Battle said eventually caused the bear to retreat.
The woman had minor injuries from the encounter, but Battle said he did not believe she sought immediate medical attention.
She remained “remarkably calm” throughout the encounter, he said. “She didn’t try to run from the bear or anything like that, she kept the sign between her and the bear and was just trying to scare it off.”
It’s not clear why the bear attacked, Battle said.
“We don’t know exactly what it was doing, but the fact that it came that close and was having that kind of an interaction, kept circling the sign — we don’t know whether it was predatory behavior for sure, but it’s certainly behavior we don’t want to see in a black bear,” he said.
Anyone who sees a bear in the area is asked to report it to the Alaska Department Fish and Game by submitting an online report or calling 907-267-2257, Battle said. The bear will likely be killed if it’s located, he said.
Anyone recreating in that area should carry bear spray, Battle said, and be aware of their surroundings.
“Never run from a bear. If a bear is approaching you, don’t retreat — stand your ground and get ready with your bear spray,” he said.
Battle said he believes this is the first report this year in that area where a black bear has followed or approached people. There have been some issues with bears eating trash near Point Woronzof, he said, but none had escalated into potentially dangerous behavior.
The encounter marked the latest in a number of bear-related injuries or fatalities in Anchorage this year.
An Army soldier was attacked and killed in May on a remote area of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Another soldier was also injured during the attack. Officials suspected it was a defensive attack involving a sow brown bear with cubs.
A man was wounded early last week in Eagle River when he surprised a sow brown bear near the river, Battle said.
The man was walking along the south side of the river when he surprised a sow with a cub at close range, according to Battle. The man jumped into the water, but the bear followed, biting and clawing him before retreating, he said.
The attack happened across the river from an apartment complex on Riverside Drive, and Battle said the man was able to yell for help and residents called 911. The Anchorage Fire Department responded with a boat to get the man across the river, Battle said, and he was able to walk to the ambulance.
Neither victim in the recent attacks was carrying bear spray, he said.