A black bear looks around near the Shrine of St. Therese in 2021. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire File)

A black bear looks around near the Shrine of St. Therese in 2021. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire File)

Experts offer advice as bears exit hibernation

Safety tips to bear in mind.

Bears, beets…Battlestar Galactica.

As the weather improves so do the odds of running into bears throughout Juneau as more of them start to come out of hibernation in search of food. That’s why it’s best to stay mindful of not only what to do in case of a sighting, but best practices to avoid encounters altogether.

Roy Churchwell, a wildlife biologist with the state Division of Wildlife Conservation, said while there are city ordinances regarding times and places to put out personal garbage, it’s still a good idea to be proactive and keep trash pickup to a minimum as well as keeping bags locked inside trash bins.

“We’ve seen a couple observations of bears, there are a few out and they’re starting to come around town,” Churchwell said. “Garbage is always obviously the main issue with bears and is attracted around homes, and so that’s kind of the one we focus the most on.”

Churchwell also said another thing to be mindful of leaving outside is bird feeders, as the bears will be attracted to the sugar water inside the feeders. In general, when feeding pets or birds outside, Churchwell said it’s important to always bring pet food inside once done feeding, as well as anything used to cook or store human food.

“If you have freezers, smokers or barbeques outside, barbeques and smokers should always be well cleaned so they’re not giving off odors that will attract animals, and we don’t recommend that people keep freezers outside,” Churchwell said. “If you do have things like compost or things like that, you could put an electric fence around that. Same with chickens or other livestock, electric fences are super effective. We just really encourage folks to use those in an opportunity where they would be useful.”

Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File
Two bears in late June walk in a field parallel to Egan Drive.

Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File Two bears in late June walk in a field parallel to Egan Drive.

Lastly, Churchwell said one other important measure of precaution to remember is to keep all car doors locked. Whether it’s digging through discarded food or simply taking your car for a joyride, Churchwell said there are a number of bears on his radar that are notorious for carjacking.

“We do have several bears that we know about that will be coming out this spring that are pretty effective at getting into cars,” Churchwell said. “There’s a bear up in the Twin Lakes area that we’ve tried to catch for three years and have been unsuccessful, so I’m sure that bear will be out soon. It is very accomplished at getting into vehicles that are unlocked, it knows very well how to open a car door. Bears are good at learning how to do things, especially if it leads to productive food resources, so we try to remind people to keep them locked.”

Carl Koch, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said when encountering a bear by accident it’s good to keep in mind they can get defensive if protecting trash or other food sources so, despite photo opportunities, it’s always best to give them space.

“The thing that people have said for years is to never run from a bear,” he said. “Of course if you’re standing on your porch and you can just turn around and go back inside to close the door, that’s different, but they run really fast so if you’re far from your house or car you never want to run away.”

Additionally, Koch said while the thought of pretending to be dead in response to a bear encounter has been popular over the years, the idea behind that has changed as more research has been done.

“Now we say it doesn’t matter what species of bear, now the thought is to act predatory and not play dead,” Koch said. “The only time you would play dead is in a defensive attack, especially with a sow with her cubs or a situation like that. Usually you’re only resorting to that if you’re on a trail somewhere and it’s already darn near made contact with you.”

•Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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