Recent bear activity around Haines — including bears peering into shop windows and lumbering down Main Street — caught many by surprise. But a state wildlife biologist says it’s not so unusual, as some bears are still out foraging at this time of year.
On a Saturday night in November, Haines book store owner Amy Kane was enjoying a drink at the Three Northmen tasting room.
“And we had gotten a seat by the window, and we were sitting there chatting,” Kane said. “And I hear what sounded to me like maybe somebody’s dog jumping up on the window, like the little click of the nails on the window.”
Kane says it was a small black bear looking into the crowded Main Street bar. She jumped up and alerted the owners.
“It was sniffing the air, looking through the window. I mean there were plenty of people in there, it was lit up, it was surprising he was being that forward. But he was a little guy,” she said. “So we were all worried about him, maybe not being well fed or, he’s not in his den.”
Kane thinks it’s the same black bear that’s been seen around town numerous times recently.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Carl Koch says it’s certainly bolder behavior than he’s used to hearing about. But he says it’s not totally unusual for this time of year.
“Typically by now, some — but certainly not all — have started to den up. What usually happens in the fall is they’re in a period of hyperphagia, where they’re eating a lot trying to pack on those lists of calories before they go in the den,” Koch said.
Koch says for bears in the wild, once they start to burn more calories foraging in the winter conditions than they’re eating, they’ll start to den up. But bears who have access to human sources of food may stay out.
“In populated areas, where their territory overlaps with humans, if they can get rewards, they often will stay out longer. And, some of this depends on the individual bear and the age class of the bear and things like that,” Koch said.
The Haines Police Department has issued several alerts for bears seen walking down Main Street. One was seen there on First Friday.
And it’s not just bar patrons reporting bold bear behavior in Haines. Nick Schlosstein was home with his wife Leah and their baby on Mt. Riley Rd. He says it was around 11 a.m. when a black bear strolled up to their house.
“My wife looked out our dining room window, and the snow is piled up so high that the bear was actually above the window, kind of looking down into it,” he said. “By the time I made it across the house, it was climbing up on top of the roof.”
He said neighbors had put the alert out that the medium-sized black bear was around. He yelled to move it along and grabbed some bear spray just in case.
“So I went outside and watched it for probably 20 minutes,” he said. “And was yelling at it, kind of trying to get it to leave. But it was mostly just on the roof and actually pushed all the snow off of the upper part of our roof and just stared at me before coming down on its own.”
Schlosstein says there didn’t seem to be any garbage or other attractants around but has since made sure to keep their vehicles and buildings locked and secure.
Koch, the state wildlife biologist, says the bold bears could have learned that people’s property means there could be food to be had. He says that this time of year, bears will be more sluggish and less likely to run off when challenged.
“When you’re hazing bears this time of year, they are just not wanting to burn as many calories,” he said. “They can be a little more lethargic.”
Koch advised securing garbage or anything that smells like food as well as hazing bears by banging pots and pans or other noise-makers — or using bear spray.
”Now that we know they’re still bears around people, use headlamps or bring flashlights when you’re moving around in the dark,” he said. “Bear spray will work down to some pretty cold temperatures if folks still have it from the summer. Not a bad idea to keep it with you or some other deterrent.”
According to police logs, the local police department received 50 bear-related calls since the beginning of November. But officers have only encountered one actual bear. The majority of calls were handled by reports taken or information relayed to other agencies such as the Alaska Wildlife Troopers or Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
As of Wednesday, the police report receiving 174 bear calls this year; that’s significantly less than last year’s 450 calls for all of 2020.