Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Llamas in Bear Country ---Deterrent or Attractant?

(Updated 5/30/19)
It's that time of year again and the bears are out and about in southcentral Alaska. When walking or hiking with llamas I'm often asked "Do llamas attract bears?" Bears have been known to attack llamas but my experience has been that llamas don't attract bears anymore than any other pack stock or pets.

In fact the llama's "alarm call" may act as a good deterrent for bears. Llamas are instinctively alert and aware of their surroundings, and usually draw attention to an intruder by making a startling "alarm call" when it senses danger. A llama is usually aware of a bear long before we can see or hear it and will let off their "alarm call" when the unwanted intruder is around. Click on the hyperlink to hear what a llama alarm call sounds like - Llama Alarm Call.

Camping with llamas even helped one couple with their bear anxiety. "But when the only thing shielding us from Mother Nature is a thin layer of opaque fabric, our imaginations run roughshod over rational thought. Bears are the problem. Our fear of bear attacks is equal parts nebulous and irrational. We logically know we’re not going to be eaten by one, but our adrenal glands still need convincing." Here's a link to the article. On Backpacking with an Anxiety Llama

That said, I would not recommend leaving llamas tied out unattended while camping. In that situation llamas would not be able to defend themselves from predators such as bears or even an aggressive dog. There are both brown and black bears in the Anchorage area and our neighborhood (in Eagle River) is no exception. We have used an electric fence for many years and that works well to keep the bears and other predators away.

When out in the woods even in the suburban areas around Anchorage, hikers and walkers should always be "bear aware" and have some type of bear deterrent, whether that be bear spray or a gun. The debate goes on as to which is more effective against a bear. Here's an interesting article on the effectiveness of bear spray - The Cold Hard Facts of Bear Deterrents: Bear Spray vs Firearms. And of course no deterrent is effective if not readily available (i.e. stored in your backpack). So whatever you choose as a bear deterrent, be sure you can easily access it when needed. This ADN article provides helpful information on how to effectively use bear spray. How to Use Bear Spray Effectively. 

For those of you in the Anchorage area, the Municipality of Anchorage has a website where you can report a bear sighting. This website also features the bear activity maps that show black and brown bear habitat as well as areas of frequent bear encounters.

MOA Bear Activity Maps

Some tips to keep you safe in bear country (from the MOA website):
  • Buddy up. You are safer in a group.
  • Make Noise. This will prevent you from surprising a bear.
  • Use your senses to stay aware. No headphones!
  • Carry bear spray. Have it accessible and know how to use it.
  • Don’t feed bears. Handle food, fish and attractants responsibly.
  • Slow down. High speed equals high risk in bear habitat.
  • Leash your pets. Off-leash pets can bring bears back to you.
  • Never run from a bear! 

Alaska Department of Fish &Game (ADF&G) has additional information on bear safety on their website.

Related articles at links below.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Attention all llama and alpaca owners, supporters and friends--

Here's an opportunity for public comment that will help the llama/alpaca industry. 


The Alaska Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing a draft Resource Management Plan (RMP) for future public land management actions in in a region known as the Bering Sea Western Interior (BSWI) Resource Management Area. (There are several BLM-RMA’s in Alaska and BSWI is just one of them.) The RMP for this region bans the use of camelids (llamas and alpacas) in sheep habitat due to a perceived disease threat.

BLM’s proposal to restrict use of camelids (llamas and alpacas) due to a perceived "health risk" to wild sheep is unscientifically founded and unjustly stigmatizes camelids. If BLM proceeds with this proposed policy of banning camelids in Alaska based on a disease threat, it could have far reaching implications for all public lands in Alaska as well as those in the lower 48 states. It is important to note that BLM’s position on this issue is not shared by other public agencies, notably the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) who manages the wildlife resources in this BLM jurisdiction. Please help curtail the “domino effect” of inappropriate rule-making in Alaska that could spread to other public land jurisdictions throughout the United States by making a comment to BLM.

There is currently an open public comment period for the BSWI-RMP and a comment to BLM can be made anytime until the close of the public comment period on June 13, 2019.  Here's a suggested comment. "I request that BLM remove the word “alpacas” and the word “llamas” from 2.7.5 Wildlife #3 (on page 2-25). Rationale: Alpacas and llamas (camelids) are not “similar species” because they reside in very different taxonomic classifications as compared to goats and sheep. Furthermore, there is no scientific evidence that alpacas and llamas pose a health risk to wild sheep. Per the June 11, 2018 letter from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) to the Greater Appalachian Llama and Alpaca Association (GALA), ADF&G does not restrict the use of camelids and states “we have no intentions to promote or support limiting the use of South American camelids on public land in the State of Alaska” and ADF&G “has no plans to change or focus our disease surveillance efforts related to camelids.” For more information and to see a copy of the ADF&G letter go to www.packllamas.org

Comments can be submitted to BLM using one of the following methods below.

1) Email comments to BSWI_RMP_COMMENT@blm.gov

2) Fax comments to 907-267-1267

3) Mail comments to: BLM Anchorage Field Office, Attention—BSWI RMP, 4700 BLM Road, Anchorage, AK 99507.

Thank you for your support!

BLM invites public to comment on Draft Bering Sea – Western Interior Resource Management Plan

BERING SEA-WESTERN INTERIOR RMP/EIS


Saturday, April 6, 2019

Update - Lower Eagle River Trail to Barbara Falls

Barbara Falls
Recently hiked the Lower Eagle River Trail to Barbara Falls. There is still quite a bit of snow and ice on the trail in combination with mud where the trail has thawed. We used ice cleats in some areas where the ice was still hard.

The Southfork is mostly thawed and there is an ice/snow bridge at the tree (below) so you can easily cross the Southfork to continue on to Barbara Falls right now. Not sure how long that will last, but the Southfork is low so when the ice/snow bridge melts you may be able to wade the Southfork if you want to continue on the trail to Barbara Falls. Due to the warmer than usual temperatures this spring, I expect trail conditions will change rapidly Be prepared for lots of mud when the ice and snow melt.


Crossing the Southfork over the snow bridge at the fallen tree.


For more information on this hike, driving directions etc., see an earlier post "Lower Eagle River Trail" on this blog under Alaska Hikes. Also see Alaska Llamas on Facebook.




Saturday, March 30, 2019

Can't carry a heavy backpack into the wilderness anymore?

Then let your 300 pound hiking (llama) partner carry the pack and you can still enjoy the wilderness! Checkout the PBS video below for more.



Monica Drost and her friends have been backpacking together since they were in college. But now in their 50s, they can’t carry their heavy packs anymore. Luckily, they found a llama outfitter and can now enjoy the wilderness without the aches and pains. 

Click here for Llama Backpacking Video 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) to Heritage Falls

The Historic Iditarod (aka Crow Pass) Trail which spans the Girdwood Valley to Eagle River is considered one of the best trails to hike in the Chugach mountain range and offers diverse scenic sights including glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife. It’s not only a great hiking/backpacking route, but it's also an historic portion of the Iditarod Trail that led from Seward to mines in the Interior. A bit of trivia not known by many is that this trail was rebuilt in the 1970s with girl scout labor.

There are a number of hiking options from the Eagle River Nature Center (ERNC) parking lot. You can hike the entire twenty-three mile traverse, hike portions of the Crow Pass trail (as I often do) or take other shorter trails that start from the ERNC. Follow this link for more on these shorter trails. Eagle River Nature Center Trails.

If you elect to hike the entire twenty-three mile traverse you can start from either Girdwood or the ERNC. The Elevation Gain is 2,100 feet from Crow Creek trailhead; and 3,100 feet from the ERNC so most hikers start from the ERNC. 



ERNC to Heritage Falls
One of my favorite sections is the trail from the ERNC to Heritage Falls.  It's about a 10.5 mile round trip (RT) from the ERNC and makes for a nice day hike. The trail from the Nature Center to the Perch (mile 4) and then on to Heritage Falls (mile 5) can usually be hiked all times of the year including winter.

(Note: this is not true of the Cross Pass end where avalanche danger is a concern during the winter months.)

View from new trail above the Perch 
From the ERNC, the first section of trail meanders through the woods until it meets up with the Eagle River at Echo Bend (mile 3) where it generally follows the river from this point forward. At about mile 1.2 the hiker gets a first glimpse of the Eagle River below the "Rapids Camp." (There is a short trail down to the river opposite the Rapids Camp.) It's not uncommon to see moose, sheep, goats and bear on your way to Heritage Falls depending on the time of year you are hiking. During the fall, you have the added bonus of stunning fall colors. 

The trail once ran adjacent to the river at approximately mile 4 near the Perch. Due to erosion it has been rerouted above the "Perch" and outstanding views of the Eagle River can now be had from the new "high" trail.

During winter months when the river is frozen, the hiker can alternate between the river and the trail. The trail from the Perch to Heritage Falls is more direct than following the river on this section. So I usually hike the river from Echo Bend (when frozen) to the Perch, and then get back on the trail just beyond the Perch for the remainder of the hike to Heritage Falls.

Once you've hiked about five miles (from the ERNC), you will notice some camping spots near the river. At this point, look across the Eagle River, and you will see Heritage Falls - frozen in the winter. This is a great place for a lunch break (or an overnight if you are camping). If you hike another half mile, you will arrive at Icicle Creek. Whatever your destination, enjoy!