A warning sign posted off Glacier Spur Road where two state trooper vehicles were also parked. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

A warning sign posted off Glacier Spur Road where two state trooper vehicles were also parked. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Bear attacks dogwalker near Dredge Lakes

A man and his dog were attacked by a sow black bear defending its cubs early Friday morning, the Alaska Department of Fish & Game told the Empire on Friday afternoon.

Walking about 50 feet ahead of its owner on the Moraine Ecology Trail near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, the dog encountered a sow black bear with at least one cub, according to ADF&G biologist Tom Schumacher

The bear was chasing the unidentified man’s Rottweiler out of some brush when the bear approached the man. The incident was reported at 9:40 a.m., though it took place at 4:30 a.m. Friday.

The bear chased the dog back to its owner, who waved his arms and decided to sit down on the narrow trail instead of being knocked down by the bear. The bear climbed on top of the man, but it didn’t bite or scratch him.

The dog, bear and man were not hurt, Schumacher said.

“He kicked at the bear, and the dog had come back and was barking and biting at the back end of the bear,” Schumacher said. After a short struggle, the bear then left the scene with at least one cub.

Schumacher characterized the attack as a defensive action by the bear, unlike recent fatal attacks by black bear near Anchorage.

“Unlike the situations up north, where black bears made predatory attacks on people, this appears to be a defensive situation where the bear thought the dog was threatening its cub, and the bear encountered the man who it also assumed was a threat,” Schumacher said. “Still, we don’t like it when bears behave this way toward people.”

USFS ranger John Neary said he does not believe the attacking bear was one of the bears that is normally seen near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

All trails are closed in the Dredge Lakes area for the time being as ADF&G investigates. The USFS said they’re unsure when they will reopen the trails, but they’ll be closed at least until Saturday. Both the USFS and ADF&G swept the area for the bear Friday morning, but couldn’t locate the bear.

The man didn’t see any identifying characteristics like an ear tag, Schumacher said. The man described the bear as being about three times the size of his Rottweiler.

If they could identify the bear, Fish & Game would consider killing the bear if they determined it to be a continued threat to humans. There are at least four sows with cubs in the area, Schumacher said, and without any identifying characteristics, it will be hard to locate the bear.

Recent mild winters have been good to bears, allowing sows to reproduce in larger numbers than normal, Fish & Game said in a June press release.

“Generally bears that behave aggressively toward people are killed,” Schumacher said. “We don’t want to put a bear that’s a problem in one area, put it somewhere else and have it cause a problem.”

Bears in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area are “highly prized for viewing” Schumacher said, and Fish & Game has a “big hurdle” in identifying the bear. He suspects it’s unlikely they will be able to properly identify and locate the aggressive bear.

“If we can’t do that, there’s no need to make a decision,” on whether to kill the bear, Schumacher said.

This is the first time in about a decade that Fish & Game has received a report of a bear making contact with a human, ADF&G’s Ryan Scott said.

“It’s extremely rare. We’ve had to go back in our records and pinpoint the last time we were aware of something like this happening,” Scott said. “But as some who has been a wildlife manager for the last 12 years, it has been at least seven or eight years making contact with a person locally.”

In that case, Scott said, a man was feeding bears out of his hand. When the man ran out of food, the bear swatted his hand. Fish & Game didn’t learn about this incident until months after it happened.

Neary said the USFS cautions people all the time to use leashes when walking on Forest Service trails, as going without one can significantly increase the risk of provoking a bear.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that the man had been knocked over by the bear. He had actually sat down before the bear climbed on top of him.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or kevin.gullufsen@juneauempire.com

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