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As weather warms, bears reemerge

Alaska Department of Fish & Game

Bristol Bay’s bears are waking up. Residents have spotted bear tracks near the Dillingham landfill. Those tracks are not only a sign of spring, but also a reminder to brush up on bear safety.

In the spring and summer, bears make frequent appearances around Dillingham.

“We see them right down on Main Street, by N&N,” said Dan Boyd, the Animal Control Officer in Dillingham. “We see them out in Nerka-Neqleq subdivision and out by the hospital.”

When bears emerge from hibernation, they usually make their way to the nearest food source. Near town, they often scout for garbage. Boyd said that proper trash disposal is critical for public safety. He recommended that people clean up outside, take garbage to the landfill or a dumpster and throw bagged garbage in a hard-sided container with a lid. For those who feed their pets outside, Boyd advised owners to clean up the kibble.

People are most likely to encounter bears between evening and early morning, when the animals are most active. While surprising a bear is dangerous, if the animal is already aware that people are nearby, loud noises could deter it from coming closer.

“You can bang pans. If you’ve got an air horn you can blow an air horn. Honk your horn. Yell. A lot of times that’ll scare the bear away,” said Boyd.

Bear mace is another popular protective measure, but it should be handled with caution.

“You have to be upwind from the bear or at least sideways to the wind,” says David Crowley, an area biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in King Salmon. “If you try to shoot that at a bear that’s upwind from you, you’re going to get a lot of blowback into your face. That’ll incapacitate you as well as the bear.”

If a bear repeatedly returns to a property, residents can contact the police department or the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

In Bristol Bay, most bear sightings and reports occur in June, July, and August. April is the time to put in place good bear safety habits and precautions.  

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.