Thursday, July 3, 2008

Urban Wildlife

Summertime in Southcentral Alaska can be magical. The sun officially shines for over nineteen hours, which means you can always see well enough to go for a run or even raft a river. Many people take full advantage of it, teeing off at 10 p.m. or participating in 24 hour races.

One such race started in Far North Bicentennial Park and ended in Providence Alaska Medical Center for fifteen year old Petra Davis. Campbell Creek runs through the park and is chock-full of king salmon and that means bears.

Ms. Davis was mauled by one of those brown bears shortly after 1 a.m. Sunday morning. She's damn lucky to be alive. One of her fellow competitors noticed a bike way off the trail and stopped to have a look.

Shotgun-toting officers from APD stood guard while paramedics packaged Ms. Davis for transport to Providence where she underwent emergency surgery to repair her carotid artery. She has punctures and lacerations along the right side of her body but is expected to make a full recovery. 

Municipality of Anchorage Wildlife Biologist Rick Sinnot has said that he would not kill the bear even if he could find it. He believes the bear was either suprised(which can mean scared) by Ms. Davis or defending his piece of the creek, rather than looking for a tasty bite of mountain biker. 

Many in the community want to have the bears exterminated or thinned out. There are less than 40,000 grizzly bears in the entire state of Alaska. Several are killed in defense of life or property each year. Life is often someone fishing late to avoid the crowds(which is when bears tend to do it too, for the same reasons) that gets charged on a creek bank and shoots the bear. All too often, property is garbage on the back porch or a bag of dog food in the garage with the door open.

Others would like to see the parks or certain trails closed when bear activity is observed. What level of activity would close a trail is difficult to pin down. Unobserved activity isn't mentioned. Don't even think about the liability the Municipality would be open to if someone were mauled on an open trail.

I fall into the other camp. I wouldn't wish a bear mauling on anyone and I mean no disrespect to Ms. Davis or her family, but I don't consider it a tragedy that someone got bit while in bear territory. 

The folks that want bears out of the city or trails closed are of the same mind as those that took monkey bars and merry-go-rounds out of the playground. They would have us helmeted, padded, bubble-wrapped, and otherwise hog-tied before we left our homes each day. I encourage all of them to find a place where all the bears are already gone.

Anchorage adopted a new city slogan recently, "Big Wild Life." Bears in the city are part of that life. Mingling with critters bigger than squirrels is just one of the things that make this a great place to live. 

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