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Spring bear sightings reported in Fairbanks, Fish & Game offers tips for staying safe

Published: Apr. 21, 2021 at 4:09 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As spring melts away the last of the snow and the bears begin leaving their dens, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offers some tips for staying safe.

According to Tony Hollis, Fairbanks Area Biologist for Wildlife Conservation for Fish & Game, right now is the prime time for grizzly bears to begin waking up. Hollis explained, “This is the time of year that they start coming out. The brown bears come out first, grizzly bears, usually mid to late April they emerge from the den. Black bears generally come out a little bit later, usually starting in May. But this is definitely the time of year where they come out of the den and start roaming around. They’ll start looking for food not long after they come out of the den. They can travel around quite a bit looking for food so anything they can eat this time of year is a bonus for them.”

Hollis wen on to say that while bears can be dangerous they are often more interested in staying away from people. “They’re generally very spooky of people and don’t want to be around people. But it doesn’t mean you couldn’t find one that is really hungry and could get ornery with you. But in general, I wouldn’t say they’re any more dangerous. They come out like this every year at this time, and it’s a rare occasion we have an instance where a bear attacks people.”

To stay on the side of caution, Hollis says there are steps one can take to prepare for their wilderness adventure to protect themselves from bears. “When you go out on the trails this time of year - this kind of falls for all wild animals, you can be this way with a moose as well - but be aware of your surroundings, pay attention around you and for signs. If you see bear tracks or bear scat in the trail, be aware there could be one around. It helps if you’re noisy. Some people wear a bell on their pack or something that rings while they are walking down trails. But I think talking with the people you’re hiking with and calling your dog and stuff like that helps. When a bear hears that they tend to go the other way. Carrying bear spray or if you’re comfortable a firearm is not a bad idea if you’re heading out to the backcountry.”

And if one does come into contact with a bear, Hollis says there are steps they can take to ward it off. “If you’re in a group of people, have the group of people stay together. Get big, get your arms out waving, yell loudly. Usually the bears... if you come into contact it’s because you snuck up on them by accident and they didn’t know you were there. If you make yourself known, get big, yell loudly, generally that will turn a bear and have him run the other way.”

According to Hollis, another precaution to take, especially for those living on the outskirts of towns, is to be aware of potential food on property that may attract bears such as bird feeders, garbage, barbecues, and so on.

For more bear safety tips, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommends an educational video by the International Association for Bear Research and Management.

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