Bears on the Russian: A work in progress

Agencies work to reduce potential for human-bear conflict

It’s about that time. The Kenai and Russian rivers are being swarmed with anglers and area bears are looking for the easy pickings left behind.

To avoid conflicts, three regulations have been put in place to protect from bears being attracted into an area.

A food storage regulation is in effect on both the USDA Forest Service lands and US Fish and Wildlife lands and waters in the area which means all attractants (food, beverages and garbage) and equipment must be stored in a bear resistant container, a vehicle or kept within three feet at all times.

The retained fish in possession regulation states fish must be kept within 12 feet of you at all times to ensure bears do not attain your fish.

The last regulation involves processing harvested fish. Anglers are asked to remove the fish whole and fillet at home; if that is not an option, tables are provided at the confluence of the Kenai and Russian rivers and at the ferry site.   

Bobbie Jo Skibo, Russian River coordinator for the USDA Forest Service, said the level of compliance with the food storage regulation (keeping food items within three feet) has been great so far. However, she would like to see users be more aware of disposing of fish waste. There have already been instances on the river where the waste is piling up and attracting bears.

“That could be a recipe for human-bear conflicts throughout the season,” Skibo said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger said it is important to pick up garbage and other attractants, but also to keep your head up.

“The biggest thing is just being alert, don’t get tunnel vision,” Selinger said.

One way anglers can help avoid fish waste in the river is to fillet at home or fillet on site using the tables provided at the confluence of the rivers, Skibo said. While filleting on the river, Skibo said to chop up the waste into small pieces so they can flow down-river in the fast current.

A series of public forums took place in April in Cooper Landing, Soldotna, Wasilla and Anchorage to help develop an effective action plan to minimize human-bear conflicts on the rivers.

“Our goal is to have a five-year action plan developed next winter that would help guide management of the area,” Skibo said.

Skibo said the agencies that manage the river are excited to have a process in place to hear from the users on what could be done to minimize human-bear conflicts in the area.

“We’re collecting all ideas and public input throughout the summer and then in the fall we’ll have public forums held again to bring people together,” Skibo said.

It could include anything from innovative ideas, from infrastructure, regulations, different facilities infrastructure, or just other creative management ideas.”

Summaries from the forums already held can be found online, Skibo said, and it would be a good a idea to look at what has already been discussed so the public can build on each other’s ideas.

“It’s a good way to stimulate thoughts for them to participate most effectively in the process,” Skibo said.

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