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Coats of many colors: Woodford to speak about Alaska’s bears

Courtesy of Terry Tollefsbol / USFWS, A grizzly bear in Yellowstone National Park. Grizzly bears are called brown bears in SE Alaska, but are the same animal.

This article first appeared in The Juneau Empire

by Amy Condra

How do you coax out the crowds on a chilly Friday evening in Juneau?

Laurie Craig, an interpreter at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, cites one topic that tends to pack the house: Animals.

“I call it ‘charismatic fauna,’” said Craig, who has been organizing the center’s Fireside Lectures for seven years. “Furry animals bring in more visitors than anything else!”

This week’s scheduled presentation, “Alaskan Bears: Coats of Many Colors,” is aimed at easing the curiosity of those among us, and there are clearly many, who want to know more about these animals that share our world.

In Juneau we are surrounded by bears, says Riley Woodford, a writer and editor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Wildlife Conservation.

“We live in one of the best places in the worlds for bears,” said Woodford, who will be speaking on the topic Friday night.

Woodford says his interest in the coats and colors of local bears was sparked by a comment from a researcher.

“It was really casual,” said Woodford. “A biologist, Kevin White, was doing some work with bears north of town, and said to me, ‘Hey, check out these white cubs! There’s a black mother bear with three cubs, and two of them are white!’”

Woodford, who worked as a field biologist before becoming a writer, said he started looking into the topic after White sent him some photographs of the bears.

Most black bears are black, says Woodford, and most brown bears are brown. Those are the classic colors, he adds.

“But in Southeast Alaska we have rules — and then we have the exception to the rules,” he said.

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