Increased bear activity near Skagway last year motivated a few different local departments to come together to promote bear safety. Now, the Skagway Interagency Bear Team is hosting an educational program about the animals and their behavior.
With melting snow and warmer spring temperatures come bears.
“They are awake, they are out, and they’re hungry,” says Ben Hayes, chief of interpretation and education at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway. The Park Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the local police department make up the Skagway Interagency Bear Team.
“It’s really just important to know that we are in bear country,” says Hayes. “And it’s in everyone’s interest to kind of be aware when you’re out there and to know what to do in case you do run into a bear, which is certainly possible. Anytime of the year, but particularly this time of the year.”
Brown and black bears are common in the Skagway area. The bear team’s goal is to promote awareness and safety, and to respond to incidents as needed.
“We all have a mutual interest in keeping bears wild and people safe in Skagway and this community,” says Hayes.
The group is hosting an educational program to help carry that interest forward.
“This is an opportunity to hear a little bit about bear biology and preventing bear encounters and food conditioning,” says Hayes. “Learn about some of the resources that are available from the State of Alaska and the police department and the National Park Service in terms of how to report bear sightings and concerns.”
Last year, increased bear activity was observed in the Dyea area and along the Chilkoot Trail. Hayes says that prompted the different departments to collaborate.
The Chilkoot Trail was shut down temporarily because of food-conditioned bears. Later in the summer a Skagway police officer accidently shot a bear that got too close to a Dyea campground with a lethal slug.
Hayes says educating the community about the animals can help reduce the likelihood of dangerous encounters.
“If you have a little knowledge of bear biology and the annual cycle of how they need to stay alive, it’s easy to understand how to avoid situations,” says Hayes.
And, he says having more information can help lessen disturbances of the wild animals.
“They’re doing their thing and we can do ours,” says Hayes. “But if we take some proactive steps and preventative measures then we can all live together here in this area.”
The bear team’s event will take place on Thursday, April 27 at 5 p.m. at the Skagway Traditional Council. They will host a number of presentations, including discussions on bear biology, preventing encounters, reporting bear sightings, and protecting property with electric fencing. It’s open to the general public.