Man bitten by bear on Refuge trail

Jun 28, 2021

Credit Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Law enforcement is investigating after a man reported being bitten by a brown bear on the Upper Kenai River Trail this weekend.

A man reported the incident Sunday around 8 p.m. on the upper part of the Kenai River Trail, which starts from Skilak Lake Loop Road. According to Alaska Wildlife Troopers, the man was hiking alone with his dog when the dog chased a female bear with two cubs, causing her to charge the hiker.

"The hiker reported that he was bitten on the arm by the bear and he then entered the Kenai River," the troopers wrote in a dispatch Monday. "The bear followed him into the river and bit him once more on the shoulder. The bear then retreated from the area and the hiker returned to his vehicle, where he contacted emergency services."

The man's injuries were not life-threatening and he was taken to the central peninsula for treatment. Troopers say he did have bear spray on him but was unable to deploy it.

The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has closed the Kenai River Trail for now. Park Ranger Leah Eskelin said this type of action is common for female brown bears who are defending their cubs.

"A bear doing her job to protect her cubs sees a threat, neutralizes it, typically in the smallest amount of energy, without any intent to cause serious harm," she said.

The refuge has seen a significant uptick in usage in the last two years, with the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more and more people outdoors. Eskelin says this includes the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, where there are a lot of bears and a lot of people. Many sows have cubs with them right now and they may come into conflict with humans over a shared resource — fish. The best ways to prevent bear incidents are to walk, rather than run, stay in groups, make lots of noise and keep pets under control, Eskelin said.

This is the second reported bear incident in the Skilak Lake area in June. Two campers were reportedly mauled by a bear June 12 near the mouth of Hidden Creek while in their tent. Both victims survived and were able to kayak  back to Upper Skilak Campground, where they were picked up by emergency responders.

Law enforcement has not located the bear and the investigation is ongoing. The hiker's dog, a 13-month-old border collie, was missing after the incident but was reportedly found Monday.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabethearl@gmail.com.