A leisurely bike ride turned serious for cyclist Jacob Tuenge Friday evening, when a brown bear chased him about 30 yards down Lutak Road.
The bear made only a “half-hearted” attempt to pursue him, Tuenge said, explaining how he was able to ride away from the encounter in one piece.
“When it first happened I was almost kind of laughing when he gave up, and then after that I realized just how close that was. Had he decided to really give it a shot, he would have had me,” Tuenge said.
Numerous bears have been spotted in and around town, including at the fairgrounds, on Piedad Road, on the beach at Front Street, and out on the Chilkoot River, said interim police chief Simon Ford.
Tuenge said he was riding back into town on his road bike when the bear popped up on the river side of the road a couple of miles south of the bridge, just as Tuenge was slowing down on an uphill portion of the road to stretch his back. The two locked gazes for a second before the bear, about 30 to 40 feet away, started toward Tuenge.
“For a second I wondered whether I should stop instead of go, but I’m glad I went. I’m also glad I wasn’t jogging; he might have gotten a couple bites out of me before he decided he didn’t want me,” Tuenge said.
Tuenge started pedaling furiously. “I rode hard for 30 or 40 yards and turned and looked over my shoulder, and he was just starting to slow down... Finally, he went up the hill and disappeared into the trees.”
Tuenge described the bear as smaller and possibly male, as he didn’t see any cubs around.
Bears in northern Southeast are emerging from hibernation and actively searching for food to restore energy reserves after a long winter, said Fish and Game wildlife biologist Stephanie Sell.
Sell said residents should store garbage in tool sheds, garages, and other sturdy, bear-proof containers, and to minimize garbage odors by freezing fish, bone, and meat scraps until they can be properly disposed.
Pet food should remain indoors where it will not attract and encourage bear visits, and bird feeders should be removed between April and October, Sell said.
At least a half-dozen bears were shot and killed last year after getting into garbage and other attractants around town, said Pam Randles, president of the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation. People can prevent 95 percent of problems with bears by dealing with attractants responsibly, she said.
Electric fences and alarm devices called “critter gitters” are available for rent at the Haines Fish and Game office. Randles said residents with fruit trees, smokehouses, chicken coops and other outdoor attractants should install one or both of the devices to discourage bear visits.
“If the bear scores in your backyard, you have to make sure the second time it is deterred. If you can prevent the second time, you can usually prevent them, period. They won’t try a third time,” Randles said.
Last year, bears at the Community Waste Solutions landfill on FAA Road ripped holes in the 800-square-foot metal building, tore a rolling door off its track, and entered the facility during business hours, prompting the company to invest in an electric fence.
The electric fence, a joint effort between CWS and the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation, should be constructed within the next month, said CWS employee Sally Garton. The company is still waiting on some equipment to arrive, she said.
CWS spokesman Burl Sheldon said the building’s four entry points will also have electrified mats that will shock bears but not humans – unless they’re not wearing shoes. Heavy wooden posts will anchor the fence, he said.
Interim chief Ford said while he applauds the efforts of CWS and the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation, the introduction of an electric fence could potentially end up causing more problems than solving them.
“That should be interesting, because it will help the problems at the dump, but it may send them away from the dump and into town for an easy meal... I can see them going, ‘Oh, I don’t want anything to do with that,’ and then going down Small Tracts (Road) to find something to eat,” Ford said.
Fish and Game regulations make it illegal to negligently leave human food, animal food or garbage in a manner that attracts bears. Haines Borough code states “no owner or person in control of property shall cause or allow the creation or maintenance of a bear attraction nuisance on that property or any adjacent right-of-way.”
An attraction nuisance is defined as more than one-half gallon of putrescible waste –organic materials prone to rapid degradation. Exceptions include manure, sewage, material in a garbage can temporarily placed outside after 4 a.m. on the day it is scheduled for collection, and material enclosed in a container or structure which requires hands or tools to open.
Ford said the police department tries to give people an opportunity to remedy garbage problems before leveling a fine. “It’s still our policy to give you a warning letter and a certain number of days to clean up the mess if it becomes an issue.”
Violators can be fined up to $300.