Fall means rise in bear activity

It’s almost Octo-bear

A bear crosses a sidewalk during the early hours of Sept. 13 in downtown Juneau. (Courtesy/ August Williams)

Though October might be best known as the time of pumpkin spice lattes, cringey fall photo shoots and Halloween, officials urge residents to remember that Juneau’s large and fluffy co-inhabitants will also be gearing up to hunker down for winter.

Roy Churchwell, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game Juneau area biologist, said now is the time of year where most bears are transitioned into hyperphagia — a biological shift where bears increase their feeding activity and are driven by a need to fatten up for winter — and urges people to be extra aware of the likely increase of bear activity in human-populated areas.

It’s the same drive to gain weight that spurs Katmai National Park and Preserve’s annual Fat Bear week, which kicks off soon.

[Officials urge locals to lock car doors after bears caught opening vehicles]

Though he said overall it’s been a “quiet” bear year in Juneau, there are still a few bears in the area causing havoc.

Churchwell said ADFG is monitoring and attempting to capture a particular bear that has been flipping unsecured dumpsters in the airport area and surrounding neighborhoods in order to get at the trash inside.

He said if AFDG manages to capture the bear, it is likely to be euthanized and would be the first euthanization in Juneau this year. He said this year is considered to be a “pretty good year” in that there is only a potential of one euthanization, which comes after two years of increased bear encounters in the Juneau area that necessitated multiple euthanizations because of safety concerns.

He said there have also been reports of a bear downtown that has been causing issues as well, but ADFG is currently not pursuing capturing it.

August Williams, a Juneau resident, posted a video on the “Juneau Bear sightings” Facebook page of a black bear walking across a sidewalk in downtown Juneau on Sept. 13 around 7:30 a.m. The video depicted the bear using the painted crosswalk to cross the street before continuing on down the other sidewalk.

“I was glad that I had no choice but to stop for him, it gave me an opportunity to video him. He looked at me like he was going to stand up by the hood of my car. Like all the comments said, he was smart enough to use the crosswalk,” Williams said.

Besides the two identified menace bears, Churchwell said ADFG hasn’t been getting as many reports as a typical year and said it seems “the bears are behaving themselves relatively well other than those two,” he said.

He said as always, the AFGD tries to hammer home the importance of people taking preventative measures like locking their garbage, and livestock and removing any bird feeders or attractants that may bring bears into human-populated areas. He said if everybody is doing their part, it keeps things safe for both bears and humans.

[Reminder: Garbage cans can only be put on curb after 4 a.m. on pickup day]

“Definitely now, bears are really, really focused on eating and putting on weight,” he said. The bears will continue in this state typically until late October or early November but warned that bears can go in and out of hibernation and said bears can be around any time of the year.

He also said, as Halloween and fall festivities become more popular, it’s important for people to remember when participating in activities such as trick-or-treating that they should stay in groups and be mindful of the possibility of seeing a bear. He said overall there typically aren’t any issues reported about bears causing a stir on Halloween, but said it’s always a good idea to be extra aware during this time of year.

“The bears aren’t really going to hunt down the kids for their candy but if you see a bear let it do its thing and leave bears alone and go trick or treating in a different area,” he said.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or at (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter @clariselarson

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