Sightings of a bear roaming on the outskirts of Naknek serve as a reminder to practice bear safety year-round – even in winter.
Bears usually hibernate during the winter, but despite the recent cold spike in Naknek, over the past two weeks, several residents have spotted bear tracks on the outskirts of town, and a few have actually spotted a bear.
“Not all bears hibernate every year," said Chris Peterson a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in King Salmon. "I’ve lived in this area for nine years, and I don’t think I’ve had a single winter, where when I’ve been out hiking I haven’t seen bear tracks in December, January, February. Not very many, but there’s almost always some.”
Fish and Game has received several reports of a bear roaming around outside of Naknek, near the landfill. Peterson says that it is unusual for people to actually see bears in the winter, but it’s not unheard of for the animals to be out and about. A big food source – like a landfill – can incentivize the bear to stay awake during the winter.
“Particularly very large, older boars sometimes just don’t feel the need to den," Peterson said. "They have so much fat, and maybe there is a landfill or something nearby, they don’t feel like they need to go den up, and the weather doesn’t bother them, so they don’t.”
A bear could also awake during the colder months because its den was disturbed, or because it didn't get enough nutrition earlier in the year, and is forced to look for food in the winter.
When out and about, people should be aware of their surroundings; Peterson recommended keeping a close eye on kids and pets and cleaning up pet food and garbage left outside as soon as possible.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-842-2200.