A number of bears, such as this one spotted downtown, have been observed around Juneau seeking shelter in cooler interiors and looking for food, according to Department of Fish and Game researchers. (Courtesy Photo / Jesse Ramsey)

A number of bears, such as this one spotted downtown, have been observed around Juneau seeking shelter in cooler interiors and looking for food, according to Department of Fish and Game researchers. (Courtesy Photo / Jesse Ramsey)

Wildlife officials urge preventative measures as bears display concerning behaviors

High heat and human habituating are contributing factors.

High temperatures are driving bears, like many Juneau residents, into the shade.

Some bears in the region are also becoming habituated to taking food directly from humans. This has led to some unfortunate interactions, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Juneau area biologist Roy Churchwell in a phone interview.

“There’s two things going on. With the warm weather, the bears will try to find cool places to hole up,” Churchwell said. “It’s really common for bears to come into garages with the doors open.”

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A bear in the University of Alaska Southeast student housing had to be tranquilized and shortly thereafter euthanized after entering a building in search of food last week, Churchwell said. Black bears have also been spotted sniffing around houses in neighborhoods downtown.

“We’re asking folks to keep doors locked. If there’s windows open, that’s also a point of access,” Churchwell said. “If there’s food on the inside, that can be a really bad situation, even if it might not seem that way to the bear.”

A pair of bears, one in the Mendenhall Valley and one near Sunshine Cove, have also demonstrated troubling behaviors, Churchwell said, including walking up to people cooking food outdoors until the people leave the area, allowing the bears to eat the food left behind.

A number of bears have been spotted around Juneau seeking shelter in cooler interiors and looking for food, such as this one spotted downtown, according to Department of Fish and Game researchers. (Courtesy Photo / Jesse Ramsey)

A number of bears have been spotted around Juneau seeking shelter in cooler interiors and looking for food, such as this one spotted downtown, according to Department of Fish and Game researchers. (Courtesy Photo / Jesse Ramsey)

“They’re very accustomed to people walking around up to them while they’re cooking,” Churchwell said. “The behavior of the bear indicates to us that the bear was fed at one point.”

The bears have not shown menace, but are nevertheless a nuisance, Churchwell said.

“If you’re approached by a bear while camping, gather up your food while you retreat from the bear,” Churchwell said. “Neither of these bears are aggressive. They just keep walking up towards you.”

One of the two nuisance bears, located in the Mendenhall Valley, has been euthanized, Churchwell said. Nuisance bear numbers are on profile for a normal year so far, Churchwell said. Bears are often driven into human spaces by poor berry or fish numbers, as was the case in 2020.

“We’ve definitely had an uptick, but we’re not quite out of the realm of normal encounters for a single summer yet,” Churchwell said. “There are definitely some berries out that I’ve seen while out doing fieldwork. It’s not like a bumper crop but they’re around. It’s kind of a mediocre year, but it’s not like last year.”

The rest of the state is having a fairly normal summer for bears so far as he’s heard, Churchwell said, although there were a number of attacks in Southcentral Alaska earlier in the summer.

“Around Anchorage there were some pretty dire bear situations this spring,” Churchwell said. “I haven’t heard too much from around there lately. I think the garbage bear scene has been pretty typical around the state.”

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

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