What are biologists learning about Juneau bears?

Bear 25 is a collared female frequently spotted near Mendenhall glacier.

Bear 25 is a collared female frequently spotted near Mendenhall glacier. (Photo from summer 2012 by Heather Bryant)

It may still be winter, but it’s not too early to start thinking about bears in Juneau.

A few black bears have been out and about all season, according to state Fish and Game wildlife biologist Ryan Scott.  He says he’s gotten more reports of bears this season than previous winters.

Some of them are wearing radio collars.  Biologists have been putting the tracking equipment on Juneau-area bears for years.  Scott says they add a bear or two to the study group every summer.  And what have they learned?

“We don’t know as much about bears as we think we do,” Scott says.

Bears in an urban place like downtown Juneau often get themselves in trouble; becoming the unwitting victims of humans who do a poor job of taking care of garbage.  But Scott says the damage isn’t permanent:

“Really the underlying problem is why is the bear there.  And generally speaking it doesn’t take us very long to figure out what food source they’re using there. And it’s most often a human food source.  Over time, what we’ve seen is they spend X-amount of time in urban locations usually taking advantage of human food sources, but they have a large component of their time spend in more wild settings, even on the periphery of downtown or in the valley.  So bears know how to utilize natural food sources.”

Trackers also know that moving a bear from town doesn’t fix the problem, especially along the road system.  Scott says the bears just come right back to their favorite haunt.

“If you really want to have some success with that, you have to put a lot of water between you and the bear.  But’s that’s not a given that that’s going to work.,” Scott says.

Some bears took short naps this winter and are already out; others will be coming out of their dens soon.  And while it looks like spring, there is little food available for them yet, so garbage will look attractive. Scott reminds Juneau residents to properly store your garbage all year around.

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