Reducing conflict between humans, bears is everybody’s job

It’s that time of year again, when salmon, people and bears all converge at the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers. Our hope is that some guidelines being implemented by governing agencies result in a safe and successful season  — for the bears and people, at least.

But it will take a cooperative effort to make it happen.

Governing agencies — the Russian River and upper Kenai River straddle U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands — have instituted a number of regulations to try to minimize negative human-bear interactions in the area. All attractants, such as food, beverages, and garbage, and equipment used to cook or store food — coolers and backpacks — must be stored in a bear resistant container, in a vehicle, or kept within 3 feet at all times while on the river. Also, retained fish — the reason everyone is there in the first place — must be kept within 12 feet at all times to ensure that bears aren’t able to grab them.

Anglers are asked to remove fish whole — gutting and gilling only. If they prefer to fillet their catch streamside, they are asked to use tables provided at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers and at the ferry site. If filleting, anglers are asked to Stop, Chop, and Throw — cut carcasses up into numerous pieces before throwing into the fast moving current.

That last directive may be the most important, as it is the accumulating carcasses that draw bears into the area. But, like the other regulations in place, it only works if everybody does it.

Past management actions have stepped up education and enforcement, temporary closures of the fishery, and hazing or removal of bears from the area. This year, agencies are looking at what is working on the river, and what could be done better. A series of public forums were held in April, and feedback on the project will be collected through October to help agencies form a plan. Information on the project and methods for providing feedback may be found online at https://projects.ecr.gov/kenai-russianriver/.

It’s worth taking the time to provide some feedback. The Russian River sockeye fishery is one of the most popular fisheries in the state. It’s one of the first runs of reds to hit the Kenai Peninsula, and it’s easily accessible. Making it safer, for people and for bears, has to be a cooperative effort between users and managers.

In short: Following regulations in place for decreasing the potential for negative interactions between humans and bears, and providing feedback to area land managers will help make the Russian River fishery safer for everyone.

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