Man bitten by brown bear on Kenai Peninsula

A large blue lake with mountains in the background
Skilak Lake (Creative Commons photo)

A man says he was bitten by a brown bear sow this weekend while hiking near Cooper Landing, according to Alaska Wildlife Troopers.

The man told troopers that he was hiking with his dog Sunday evening, on the upper part of the Kenai River Trail, which starts off Skilak Lake Loop Road, when they encountered the bear and two cubs.

“The adult male’s dog chased the bear which caused the sow to charge the hiker,” said troopers in a written report. “The hiker reported that he was bitten on the arm by the bear and he then entered the Kenai River. The bear followed him into the river and bit him once more on the shoulder.”

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The bear retreated. The man — who troopers have not identified — then went to his car and called for help. Troopers got called about the bear attack around 7:40 p.m.

Troopers said the man’s injuries were not life-threatening, and he was taken to the hospital for treatment.

He did have bear spray on him, but was unable to deploy it, according to troopers.

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The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has closed the Kenai River Trail for now.

Park Ranger Leah Eskelin said it’s common for female brown bears to charge when defending her cubs.

“A bear doing her job to protect her cubs sees a threat, neutralizes it, typically in the smallest amount of energy, without any intent to cause serious harm,” she said.

The refuge has seen a signficant uptick in usage in the last two years, with the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more and more people outdoors. That includes the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, where there are a lot of bears and a lot of people, Eskelin said.

Many bears have cubs with them right now, and they may come into conflict with humans over a shared resource: fish. The best ways to prevent surprise bear incidents are to walk rather than run, stay in groups, make lots of noise and keep pets under control, Eskelin said.

This is the second reported bear incident in the Skilak Lake area in June. Two campers were reportedly mauled by a bear on June 12 near the mouth of Hidden Creek.

Law enforcement has not yet located the bear, and the investigation is ongoing. The hiker’s dog, a 13-month-old border collie, is still missing in the area. Anyone who encounters a loose border collie in the area should call the Soldotna Alaska Wildlife Troopers at (907) 262-4573.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabethearl@gmail.com.

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