As COVID-19 restrictions send more Alaskans outside, Fish and Game warns about bears

A bear spotted in the Bear Valley area, near Carl Street and Paine Road, in Anchorage on Monday. (Photo courtesy Celma Barreto)

The sun is out, and so are the bears. And that means Dave Battle, the Anchorage area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, is busy. 

Battle said the department started to get a few calls about bear sightings in early April, and over the past week, “it’s really ramped up.” 

“And we don’t know how much COVID might be affecting that,” he said. 

More and more people are outside and on the trails, as the weather warms and the coronavirus limits other recreational activities. So an increase in bear reports, Battle said, doesn’t necessarily mean there are more bears wandering through the municipality this spring.

“When you have more people out on the trails, whatever wildlife is out there is going to be seen by somebody,” he said. “You’re going to have interactions.” 

Related: With fewer recreational opportunities, Alaskans flock to state parks

Recent reports include bears in the Kincaid area, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Eagle River, South Anchorage, Muldoon and the McHugh area on the Turnagain Arm. That’s not unusual for early May. 

“It’s probably somewhat business as usual,” Battle said. “Every year is a little different. Some years are higher conflict years, some years are lower conflict years. It’s a little early to say yet which one this is going to be.”

A black bear in the Arctic Valley area on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy Florence Shield)

By Wednesday afternoon, Fish and Game had no reports of bear maulings this year, or bears killed in defense of life or property in the Anchorage area.

Battle said Alaskans headed outside should prepare for bears by carrying bear spray or other deterrents and reviewing safety tips. One of the most important, Battle said: “Don’t ever run from a bear.” 

“Running is going to draw a chase response, and if the bear wants to catch up to you, it will,” he said.

To keep bears out of neighborhoods, Battle said, it’s critical Alaskans properly secure the trash they store outside.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.

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Tegan Hanlon is the deputy digital editor at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at thanlon@alaskapublic.org.