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Grizzlies feeding on moose prompt officials to close McHugh wayside

Craig Medred

No sooner is one grizzly problem solved by killing an Anchorage bear than a whole gang of trouble pops up.

This time it’s a family of grizzly bears feasting on moose near the McHugh Creek wayside along the Seward Highway just south of Alaska's largest city. Park officials said Friday they were closing facilities there indefinitely because two bears had been reported in the area dining on a dead moose calf.

Bears are active along Turnagain Arm this time of year, hunting newborn moose, and they can be extremely protective of their kills. Two hikers were killed on the McHugh Creek Trail in 1992 when they stumbled into a lone bear on a kill.

Park officials said they were closing all McHugh facilities -- including restrooms and parking --in the name of safety. They closed the McHugh access to the Turnagain Arm Trail, but left other trail heads open. Hikers were warned to stay on the trail, though that is no protection against running into a bear.

Some hikers reported a sow with two cubs along the trail Thursday night, leaving it unclear as to whether there might be two groups of bears prowling the area. The problem of bears on a kill shouldn't last long, according to wildlife biologists. A family of grizzlies can devour a newborn moose calf -- and calves are just being born -- in a matter of hours. But then the bears are likely to go looking for another tasty moose calf.

It can be particularly dangerous to accidentally get between an angry and defensive moose cow and bear this time of year. And it might be even more dangerous to stumble on a cow moose that has died trying to defend its young. If grizzlies manage to kill an adult moose, they will camp on it for days and feast.

Hikers in Alaska should know how to recognize the signs that a bear has killed and cached a big-game animal, and authorities recommend carrying bear-repelling pepper spray -- and know how to use it -- for self defense.