New encounters with sow brown bears near the Eagle River site of a fatal mauling last month have prompted state officials to close a nearby trail – and rekindled biologists’ hopes of capturing the bear involved in the June death.

Ken Marsh, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game, said the sightings near the Symphony Lake Trail had prompted Chugach State Park officials to temporarily close the trail Wednesday. Nobody was injured in the latest incidents, which occurred in the same area as the mauling which left 44-year-old Michael Soltis dead.

Efforts to find that bear had been scaled back, Marsh said, after initial efforts weren't successful.

“We’d removed the traps because it’d just really cooled off – we weren’t seeing anything on our trail cameras, reports from residents,” Marsh said. “It just started to heat back up again with reports from residents late last week.”

The first of the two new incidents occurred Friday, according to Marsh. Fish and Game received anecdotal and social-media reports of what happened over the weekend.

“There was a bluff charge,” Marsh said. “It was a female brown bear sow with one yearling cub or two yearling cubs.”

A second incident, reported to Fish and Game Tuesday night, occurred as a group of hikers were traveling from the Hunter Pass area to the Symphony Lake trailhead. As they did so, they encountered a sow brown bear with two or three cubs.

“Apparently there was a close encounter which made the hikers sufficiently uncomfortable that they discharged a weapon a few times to scare the bears off,” Marsh said. “They didn’t hit the bear.”

The new sightings, Marsh said, come as Fish and Game receives results of DNA evidence from the June maulings which killed Soltis and injured a searcher looking for him.

“We learned that the animal or animals involved in the attacks were female brown bears,” Marsh said. “We don’t know if they were the same brown bear, but there is that common factor.”

The encounters are also consistent with Fish and Game’s research on brown bear habitats in the Anchorage area, including the findings of a 2008 study.

“Among our findings was that sows tend to have a relatively more defined home range as opposed to boars,” Marsh said. “Because we have sows in close proximity to this attack site, we think there’s a fair chance to catch the bear or bears involved.”

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