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Woman out for a morning run surprised by a charging grizzly
Driver honking horn scares bear away at last minute


By NICOLE TSONG and DOUG O'HARRA
Anchorage Daily News

(Published: May 22, 2003)

Karen Kirk's first thought when she saw a grizzly barreling toward her on two-lane Eagle River Road on Wednesday was, "Surely that's not a bear charging me."

But there it was, a bear running full-tilt at her at Mile 6.6, just a few miles from Wal-Mart.

Kirk, 37, was focusing on her daily run, up a steep hill Wednesday morning around 9:45, zoning out to the kickboxing music rushing through her headphones, when she heard a swishing noise behind her.

She glanced back and doesn't like to think about what might have happened if she hadn't. Because behind her, a bear with marbled light-brown fur was running "like a bat out of ****" down a wooded embankment on the opposite side of the highway and heading right for her.

Kirk said that her mind went blank and that the only thought that popped in her head was she needed to get something between her and the bear. She stepped over a guard rail and ran behind some trees too slim to climb, hoping the bear would run past.

She didn't know what to do, and the trees didn't offer much protection.

The bear was small, but roly-poly, and she initially thought it was running away from something.

"It wasn't until the last moment that I realized I was his final destination," she said.

It stopped right in front of her patch of trees and put its paw on the guard rail five feet away. Just as it was about to clamber over and as Kirk was wondering what it would feel like to get "popped," she heard someone honking madly on the road. A truck roared around the bend, its driver beeping his horn and revving the engine to frighten the grizzly. The noise worked, scaring the bear back into the woods.

"Talk about serendipity," she said.

She doesn't know the truck driver's name, but he gave her a ride home.

Rick Sinnott, the Anchorage area biologist for the state Department of Fish and Game, said it was very possible the bear was going to attack. A brown bear had been reported by other residents in that area at about 9 a.m. and again at about 11 a.m.

Sinnott figures it might be a young brown bear searching for a quick meal of moose.

"Both times it sounds like the cow and calves were in the road," Sinnott said. "And the bear came out into the road after them. ... It certainly wasn't shy."

He visited the area later on Wednesday and didn't find any sign of a fresh kill. He planned to monitor the bear reports. "But it sounds like it was doing a normal bear thing," he said.

If the bear returns and turns out to be a youngster chasing moose and bothering people, Sinnott said he might try to dart it and move it to a remote area. If it's an older bear that has become too bold around people, the biologist said he'd be more likely to kill it.

Black and brown bears have been roaming Anchorage woods and foothills over the past few weeks, with state biologists receiving between five and 10 calls per day, Sinnott said. On Tuesday, a family picking mushrooms near Chugiak was alarmed when a black bear seemed to follow the kids, he said.

Cranky moose that just gave birth also pose a threat to people who come too close. A cow with two new calves kicked a woman cyclist and broke her wrist last week in Hillside Park.

With lots of "large, dangerous animals" pursuing their own agendas, people ought to be careful, Sinnott said. "Actually the moose are more dangerous right now than the bears are."

Sinnott said Kirk's experience suggests a couple of lessons. Her instinct was to climb a tree, but he recommends standing your ground and make sure the bear knows you're a human. He also warned people away from jogging along salmon streams during spawning or in dense forest.

"This time of year, there are a lot of bears kind of running though the woods looking for small things that are running, hoping to snag a moose calf."

Still, Kirk was probably running in one of the best locations in Eagle River -- along a well-traveled road, Sinnott said.

Kirk said it never occurred to her that a bear would charge her there. Later Wednesday she walked near the area where the bear descended and cast one wary glance that direction. With rush hour traffic roaring by and two people accompanying her, she said she felt safe again.

But as the mother of two young boys, she's concerned about the children who live in the area that the bear might pursue.

She's a little intimidated at the thought of running outside this week. But maybe in a few days.

"Now that we're out here, I'm like, 'I could run this again,' " she said. "But that might not be wise."
 
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