A study by state biologists has found parts of Anchorage are much more popular among grizzly bears than they previously thought.
At least three dozen grizzlies have been seen over the past three summers along Campbell Creek, which courses through industrial and residential areas and is home to a science center that is popular among families on warm summer days.
While biologists with the Department of Fish and Game knew the area was popular with bears, they were surprised to find out just how many were hanging out along the stream. It appears the bears are coming from several valleys in the Chugach Mountains above Anchorage.
Several dens were seen from downtown during the study, said Sean Farley, a bear research biologist.
The bears are roaming large ranges that in some cases stretch all the way to the Little Susitna River west of Wasilla. From there a bear would have to swim through Cook Inlet waters to reach Anchorage, but that's no obstacle to the animals, Farley said.
Of 11 bears fitted with radio collars during the study, a boar had the largest range. It wandered an area about eight times larger than that of the average sow with cubs. The latter tended to focus their time in and around salmon streams in sight of Anchorage, which has about 300,000 residents.
While grizzly bears are endangered or threatened in the Lower 48 states, in Anchorage they could be considered the neighbor next door. Biologists are leery of even taking a guess at exactly how many of them inhabit the Municipality of Anchorage, an area about the size of Delaware.
There have been a number of bear-human confrontations in the area in recent years. Some people been injured, and two runners were killed in a 1995 attack, but such run-ins are more likely to end with the bear getting shot.
The animals seem to understand that, Farley said. Hikers and mountain bikers aren't seeing grizzlies as often as his data suggests they should be.
"They're very secretive," Farley said. "They're very good at hiding from us. They're very good at avoiding people."