ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTVA-CBS 11 News)
The bear attack on Rover's Run is a reminder of what happens when people encounter bears. But is our city being proactive in protecting us from bears on the trails?
Although officials are saying Tuesday's mauling at Far North Bicentennial Park was minor, they do admit that it could have ended a lot worse.
They say it's time to explore what other options are out there to keep residents safe from bear attacks.
“I had to use bear spray to get my way out of a sow with some cubs and called 911,” said Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, who had a dangerous encounter with bears before. 911 dispatchers told her they don't respond to bear attacks. “They said if the bears are threatening you and you are in dire straights we'll respond. I said with all due respect, at that point I am not going to be able to call you,” she said.
Millett says that flaw in the system is one of many in a city where so many people use trails that bring them face to face with bears that flock towards the salmon streams.
“We stock the streams and we get upset when bears come to feed,” said Millett. “We are creating our problems by stocking the streams. There is a whole group of people who love to fish and there is a whole bunch of people who love to view wildlife and there is a whole lot of people in Anchorage who like to use the trails.”
“Most of those encounter areas are places where people live or play everyday but there are also
bears there,” said Rick Sinnott, a wildlife biologist, for the state Fish and Game.
In light of Tuesday's mauling, Fish and Game biologists strongly recommended closing down Rover's Run until they figured out the series of events that led to the attack.
“That's what we are hoping to avoid–situations where you've got a trail where we've had encounters before,” said Sinnott. “People have been mauled before. It seems like those situations for a few months in the summer time with all the other hundreds of miles of trails in town that those few miles of trails could be closed.”
But with the trails under the city's control, state officials say the municipality needs to work with them to come up with other options.
“Let's do a good job of marking our trails, and then when you go use the trails, file a trail plan,” said Millett.
“Relocate the real trail, the real Rover's Run, a little bit further away from the creek, so people have a safer place to exercise, run and stuff.”
A plan that could work two-fold for everyone's safety, to keep bears away from the trails while also keeping people away from the bears.
“Right now the bears are using it, they are fishing for salmon there, if you put a new trail in there you are kind of asking for these kind of maulings,” said Sinnott.
Sinnott says another idea is to make Rover's Run an winter-use only trail, when the bears are hibernating. Officials say this tactic has proved successful with the Albert's Loop Trail in Eagle River.
City officials say they're going to put up multiple signs around Rover's Run and encourage folks to check out their bear aware site.