Juneau bears have learned to get into parked cars in search of food

Bear activity has been increasing in Juneau in August, said wildlife officials, and some of the bruins are looking in parked cars to grab some food.

Carl Koch, assistant area management biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the department is monitoring two black bears in the Mendenhall Valley area that have learned how to open car doors, and have caused “fairly significant damage” to at least three vehicles in the past few weeks.

Another bear occurrence was posted on the Juneau Community Collective Facebook page, showing video footage of a bear running and climbing around the lobby of Best Western Country Lane Inn while the front desk attendant was on the phone.

Another viral post showed a bear tearing into bags of garbage on a well-traveled downtown street.

Koch said despite the recent events, overall it has been a relatively quiet year.

This comes after two years of increased bear encounters in the Juneau area that necessitated multiple euthanizations because of safety concerns. This year Koch said Juneau has had three to four bears hit by vehicles, one of which died due to the impact.

He said the most concerning occurrence that he has seen and wants Juneau residents to be aware of is the increasing activity of bears climbing into or opening unlocked vehicles.

“Please remember to keep cars cleaned out,” Koch said. “Keeping them locked not only can prevent crime but also prevent bears from coming in.”

He said this occurrence is a relatively new phenomenon happening in Juneau over the past five years and speculated it could be because new car designs make it easier for a bear to open doors. He said it’s important for people to make sure they’re locking their cars and keeping vehicles free of food because bears can cause significant damage to both themselves and cars if they become trapped inside.

“If they get stuck inside, they’re eventually going to find a way out — and it’s usually not by opening the door,” he said.

He said another thing to be increasingly aware of as the summer progresses is bear activity will likely continue to increase as they start to transition into hyperphagia — their “last push to pack on calories” ahead of winter.

Hyperphagia typically runs from mid-August through to late September or October, and Koch said people should make sure they are doing preventative measures like locking their garbage, and livestock and removing any bird feeders or attractants that may bring bears into human-populated areas.

“We live in bear country and you have to be aware all the time, none of us are immune,” he said.


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