Two black bears walk along Skilak Lake Road on Monday, June 14, 2021 near Skilak Lake, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Two black bears walk along Skilak Lake Road on Monday, June 14, 2021 near Skilak Lake, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Bears and dogs don’t mix

The best way to enjoy bear country with pups is by keeping them close.

Bear run-ins seem to frequent the summer, but the actual chances of an individual having an altercation with a bear are considered slim. Dogs, however, can sometimes prompt attacks.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, there are about 100,000 black bears that inhabit the state. Of those, between 3,000 and 4,000 black bears live on the Kenai Peninsula. It is estimated that Alaska is home to 30,000 brown bears statewide.

Still, bear attacks are rare.

According to a state department of epidemiology 2019 report, the average rate of hospitalization due to bear altercations was 3.8 per year. From 2000 to 2017, there were 68 bear-related injuries and 10 fatalities in Alaska.

To prevent unwanted contact with bears in the wild, it is important to be bear aware — especially while recreating with dogs.

Last month a Montana man was bitten by a bear while hiking on the Upper Kenai River Trail near Cooper Landing with his young border collie off leash. In April, three hikers had a standoff with a bear at Tonsina Creek near Seward after it followed their dog down the trail toward them.

Leah Eskelin, a visitor services park ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said the best way to enjoy bear country with pups is by keeping them close.

“The best action for bringing your dogs with you … is to keep them under direct control,” she said.

Eskelin said this translates differently for different dogs. For example, her pup is accustomed to being off leash on her property, but she has decided not to give her dog the opportunity to make poor choices while in the woods or in public.

“If you have a dog in a public environment the best practice is always to have it on a leash,” Eskelin said.

She said Alaskan wild animals are generally curious, as are most canines. Using a leash while recreating in bear country keeps them from interacting with each other.

“There are very few dogs that have that perfect recall,” Eskelin said, pointing out that even most well-trained pups still choose hot pursuit when coming in contact with squirrels and other small animals. It can be helpful to have a dog while on the trails in bear country as well, she said, as they can sense other predators better than humans can.

But, it’s safer for the well-being of not just the people recreating, but also pets and wildlife if dogs are leashed.

“It can really elevate your experience and be a positive thing,” Eskelin said.

On July 20, the refuge will host a bear-aware seminar outside the visitor center at 5 p.m. Participants will receive information on how to prepare for hiking, fishing and camping, and how to bear-proof personal property and dispel spray deterrent. The program is free and open to the public, and does not require a pre-registration.

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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