Encounters with bears like this one near the Shrine of St. Therese are on track for a normal year right now, but the berry and salmon seasons are too early to call right now, say biologists. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Encounters with bears like this one near the Shrine of St. Therese are on track for a normal year right now, but the berry and salmon seasons are too early to call right now, say biologists. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Bear encounters running par for course so far in 2021

It’s too early to call the berry or salmon seasons, which play a large part.

Bear encounters for 2021 are well within regular numbers, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game scientist and a police spokesperson.

A limited berry crop and stunted salmon runs in 2020 led to a number of interactions with bears as they sought sustenance from urban sources such as garbage cans.

“So far, the bear encounters in Juneau seems to be average,” said Roy Churchwell, the Juneau area biologist with DF&G. “We have had a few calls, but nothing like last year. It is still early yet though. The same with human-bear interaction calls. There have been a few, but it seems like a normal year so far. ”

Last year saw volunteers attempting to raise awareness for trash can security as the Juneau Police Department fielded a record number of calls about bear encounters across the entire summer — especially later in 2020.

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“The number of calls isn’t too far out of the regular number,” said JPD public safety manager Erann Kalwara in an email. “Some calls are directly related to bears, some are related to bears creating litter issues.”

Bear calls from February- June 6th by year

2021 – 51

2020 – 41

2019 – 47

2018 – 71

Encounters with bears like this one near the Shrine of St. Therese are on track for a normal year right now, but the berry and salmon seasons are too early to call right now, say biologists. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

Encounters with bears like this one near the Shrine of St. Therese are on track for a normal year right now, but the berry and salmon seasons are too early to call right now, say biologists. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)

How the summer will play out depends on how much access bears have to natural food sources, Churchwell said.

“It is too early to know if we are going to have a good berry crop, or if there will be a lot of salmon available,” Churchwell said. “Time will tell.”

Currently, the City and Borough of Juneau forbids taking a trash can out for pickup from a hardened location before 4 a.m. on pickup, with violators subject to fines.

Trail Mix Inc. recently installed hardened food lockers at the Mendenhall and Auke Village campgrounds, according to a Forest Service news release. The lockers are large enough for most coolers, according to the U.S. Forest Service, hopefully discouraging bears from becoming acclimated to raiding the campgrounds.

“These food lockers will help out a great deal in keeping human food away from bears, and without food readily available bears will hopefully just pass through the campground from time to time and not stick around at campsites—this is a great opportunity to help keep wild bears wild,” Churchwell said in the release.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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