From the Archives, April 1, 1997: Hibernating bears discovered in campus tunnel system

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Staff Report/ The Sun Star

UAF physical plant workers, while conducting maintenance surveys of the underground tunnel system on campus, have discovered the den of a hibernating bear.

Last week, chief day-crew tunnel inspector Hiram Treiza opened a door into one of the tunnel entrances on West Ridge, and noticed an unusual odor. Further investigation revealed scat left behind by some animals as the source of the odor. Samples sent to the lab at the Institute of Arctic Biology revealed that the droppings are most likely from a brown bear.

That theory was confirmed early this week as physical plant workers, along with officials from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game entered the tunnels with heat seeking devices in order to locate any bears that might be using the tunnels as a hibernation area. The investigators found one live female bear, along with two cubs in one area of the tunnels near West Ridge.

The adult bear is in a state of hibernation, according to biologist Wayne Dufremal. Dufremal said the bear will most likely, “remain in a state of hibernation for another month or so.” That appraisal is good news to UAF officials, as they will now meet to decide what to do with the bears that have taken up residence in the tunnels. Options include leaving the bears be and keeping curious spectators from trying to view them or attempting to sedate the animals and relocating them.

In the meantime, Trieza and Fish & Game will continue to search the tunnels for signs of any other bears that may have decided to take up residence in the tunnels. Dufremal said that there is not much of a threat to students or staff at UAF, as the bears are deep within the tunnel system, and are not expected to wake for some time. “As long as you keep kids from poking around down there, everything should be okay. Once they [the bears] wake up, it could be a different story,” said Dufremal.

In light of the recent event, university animal control issued a warning to all UAF affiliates, that the bears could pose a potential life-threatening hazard, and that individuals should steer clear of the tunnels.

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