Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bears visit airport — Soldotna pilots find tracks inside fence

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Two brown bears apparently took an interest in aviation Thursday night and led themselves on a tour of the Soldotna Airport.

Pilots found bear tracks around their planes Friday, and the city maintenance department was called to investigate. Doug Schoessler, maintenance manager, followed two sets of what he figures were brown bear tracks, one large and one small, but didn’t see the bears. He thinks it’s a sow and cub.

“I saw two spots where they came under the back fence. They’d kind of dug through the trees under the fence,” he said.

An Enstar crew has been working on a gas pipeline outside the fence. They also saw bear tracks but didn’t seen the bears, Schoessler said.

The smaller tracks stayed mostly out by the fence, while the larger bear was bolder.

“They definitely walked through some of the planes right by the hangers there, but were mostly in the spots that were not populated by anyone. But the bigger one definitely walked around by some the airplanes and didn’t seem too shy,” Schoessler said.

No damage was reported to planes or other equipment. There aren’t any food sources or garbage left out at the airport to attract bears, Schoessler said. They may have been looking for game.

“I saw a lot of rabbit tracks. That was what I kinda wondered, if they were coming in looking for rabbits or not. But I didn’t see any kills or any anything other than tracks,” he said.

Whatever enticed them, the bears seemed to have let themselves out the same way they got in — by making a hole under the back fence.

“They walked right by that one gate that had a big gap under it, but they didn’t even try to get under it. I think they try to find their private areas,” Schoessler said.

There’s a stand of trees in the roughly 200-acre fenced enclosure, but maintenance workers didn’t see any sign of the bears.

“We tried to make some noise over that way to drive them out, but it they were in those trees at the east end, they were just sitting tight. But I don’t think so. I think they got out.,” he said.

Moose occasionally find their way into the airport fence in the winter and have to be driven out, but bears are uncommon.

“A long, long time ago they had some issues with bears, but I’ve been there five years and I’ve never had anything since I’ve been there,” Schoessler said.

Bears could pose a threat to humans at the airport, but the larger concern with any sizeable wildlife is the hazard they pose to planes landing or taking off.

“Moose or bears or any of those things, if a plane hit them, it’s not a good thing,” Schoessler said.

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