Black bear behavior raises concerns on Turnagain Arm Trail

The McHugh trailhead on the Turnagain Arm Trail. (Photo by Abbey Collins, Alaska Public Media)

Hikers in the Anchorage area are advised to use caution on the Turnagain Arm Trail, following multiple reports of a black bear displaying unusual behavior.

Dave Battle is an Anchorage-area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He says the agency first received a report on May 23. A black bear approached two adults and two dogs about a mile south of the McHugh trailhead.

“Just coming straight at them with its head down, not phased by yelling, waving arms, or even the dogs barking at it. It just kept coming,” Battle said. “Didn’t have any vocalizations or anything that would indicate defensive behavior. And that’s the kind of thing that concerns us with black bears.”

The second report happened on Monday, closer to McHugh. Battle says in that case, hikers reported seeing a bear above them on a hill. It reportedly circled around and got close to their dog. One of the hikers fired a warning shot with a pistol, driving the bear off.

Following each report, Battle attempted to find the bears reportedly involved, but was unsuccessful. Now, the department is warning hikers in the area.

“First off, I would maybe recommend hiking somewhere else,” Battle said. “Bears don’t just stay in one spot. They have a very large home range probably, and you might find it in other places. But you might consider hiking somewhere else instead of going there right now.”

If hikers do choose to use the trail, Battle says they should travel in groups.

“It’s important for people to be close enough that if you do see a bear you can group up and actually get shoulder to shoulder, so you look like one big critter, that’s bigger than that bear,” Battle said.

And always carry deterrents.

“We always recommend bear spray,” Battle said. “If people are going to carry firearms, make sure it’s a large enough caliber to do the job if you need it to be done. And that you are very proficient in hitting what you’re aiming at in high stress situations.”

ADF&G has more information on bear safety on their website.