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Bear charges hikers on Skilak Lookout trail

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Jenny Neyman/KDLL
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The Kenai Peninsula is seeing some of its most beautiful weather of the year right around now, which is getting a lot of people outside. But it’s also getting the bears out, and where they overlap with people, there can be trouble.

On Sunday, a brown bear was reported to have bluff charged a hiker on the Skilak Lookout trail off Skilak Lake Road. No one was reportedly hurt, but running into a bear can be scary. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Park Ranger Leah Eskelin says some are taking actions like firing warning shots into the air to scare off bears, but that’s not the best way to go.

"The biggest problem there, of course, is that the bullets have to come down somewhere," she said. "It’s very, very risky behavior in an area that has a lot of recreational users. And it’s not effective. There bears have not changed their movements based on warning shots and any of—I’m thinking about four different scenarios in the last month that we’ve had people use warning shots as a first line of response when that adolescent bear comes toward them that haven’t changed the bears behavior in any of the reports. The bear keeps on coming."

Two young brown bears have also been spotted for most of the summer alongside the Russian River, near the popular sportfishery there. Eskelin says they’re two orphaned yearlings who have learned that people keep tasty strings full of fish with them. The bears have been spotted crossing the river as well–wherever the fishing is best. That kind of bear, which has learned that it can push people off a string of fish, can cause trouble.

"That’s some of what we’re dealing with now— ears that have learned bad behaviors, and of course, a bear that has that kind of pushy behavior is going to be encountered by more people, specifically because they’re seeking out people," she said.

Bears, both black and brown, are a fact of life on the peninsula. But with more people getting outside and recreating in this summer of social distancing, more people may be spotting them, too. The peninsula is seeing some weak fish runs, and with berries still on the way, the bears may cross paths with humans more often—particularly in the case of trash left out or fish unattended. Eskelin recommends people pay extra attention to their surroundings, keep their fish and packs close, and making lots of noise on the trail.

She said people can reach out for more information or to share sightings of bears, particularly when they’re doing un-bear-like things.

"So if you’re in a campground and you have a bear coming through realy regularly, we are doing our best especially during our patrols to observe those kinds of frequent behaviors," she said. "We want to see when a behavior becomes a habit. One bear walking through that just keeps going and doesn’t sniff the picnic tables, that’s different than a bear that becomes habitual in a campaground. That’s where we want to for sure know."

Anyone who wants to report a bear sighting or learn more about recreating in bear country can call the refuge at 907-260-2820 or check out the Refuge’s Facebook page for more information.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.

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