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Officials urge caution as bear sightings continue

Tommy Joseph saw this brown bear on the boardwalk at Starrigavan Estuary, north of Sitka in 2012. "After grazing in the estuary for a good while he climbed on to the boardwalk and rubbed against a signpost, then took about a half an hour nap," Joseph said. (Photo: Tommy Joseph)

In this file photo from 2012, a brown bear climbs on the boardwalk at Starrigavan Estuary, north of Sitka. A number of sightings this summer have officials reminding the public to remember bear safety practices. (Photo by Tommy Joseph)

Salmon runs will begin soon on many waterways in Southeast Alaska. And that can mean an increased presence of bears. Already, Sitka National Historical Park has warned visitors of a recent bear sighting. And social media sites designed to monitor bear activity in Sitka have kept busy all through the summer.

Phil Mooney is the wildlife management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. He said the year started out busy for bear activity in Sitka, but has tapered off a bit. In late June, a resident shot and killed a male bear near Kramer Avenue. Fish and Game noted the bear death as a kill made in defense of life and property.

“So he was a good-sized male, and while that gives you kind of a break in the action, it doesn’t last long, because there’s always a younger bear waiting to fill his shoes,” Mooney said. “The big bear gets to be pretty predictable in his behavior, but the younger bear isn’t.”

Some bear-resistant trash cans are circulating in Sitka, in an attempt to prevent bears from being attracted to garbage. But even with the bear-resistant cans, Mooney said it’s important to keep smelly trash out of the cans until the day of pickup.

“Those cans are no match for a determined bear,” he said. “You just make them smarter. They come and and figure out how to tip them over and how to squish them. We can’t. People aren’t strong enough to do it. But it’s really not much of a match for them.”

Mooney said it’s important to report bear sightings to local authorities, which helps management officials like him track their movements. The Sitka police non-emergency number is 747-3245.

Sitka police Lt. Barry Allen says police have received about 30 bear reports since early June, nearly half of those in July.

And what about that bear spotted on Sunday near the Sawmill Creek Road entrance to Sitka National Historical Park?

“That’s to be very much expected,” Mooney said. “Fish are starting to come in and bears will come into Indian River. Socially, they distribute themselves within their own pecking order. The big guys get the best areas to fish first. You have to let those fish come up the stream quit ea ways to distribute the bears. Even though there’s a lot of berries and we’re going to have a good strong fish run, people need to pay attention and not let down their guard.”

Bear safety protocols include being aware of your surroundings at all times, but especially near blind corners or hills, and around dusk and dawn. If you encounter a bear, back away slowly but don’t run. Here are safety tips from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.



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