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Panel backs education to reduce bear-human encounters

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2000

KENAI (AP) -- Kenai Peninsula residents must learn to live with brown bears if they want to escape federal restrictions that could hurt jobs and throttle access to the outdoors, say soon-to-be-published guidelines.

The Kenai Peninsula Brown Bear Conservation Strategy, scheduled for public review April 18, emphasizes public education as a chief tool in preserving the grizzlies.

The Peninsula's brown bears are considered an island population. Bear numbers, estimated at 250 to 300, are believed to be healthy for now. But the bears could be jeopardized by continued road building and backcountry recreation.

The animals shun roads and homes. They produce few offspring, so bear numbers can plummet quickly if migratory routes are cut or too many females are shot.

Panelists in a group drafting the bear strategy say keeping people out of bear feeding places and bears out of residential areas is the key to protecting the grizzlies.

They want to see a teacher of some sort hired, chiefly to make sure people know what would happen if Peninsula brown bear numbers sink low enough to trigger listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.

If that occurs, it could slam the door on public access to the backcountry, not just for hikers, anglers and hunters but for the oil industry, loggers and miners.

''We'd rather take responsible steps now than be just totally shut out later,'' said Faye Sullivan, an environmental scientist for Unocal, which operates oil and gas fields in the heart of Peninsula bear country.

Sullivan is part of the 15-member panel that drafted the 35-page list of recommendations. The panel represents conservationists, logging and oil industries, private property owners, hunters and Natives, as well as local, state and federal wildlife managers.

The strategy is to be used as a guideline for state and federal agencies that handle wildlife management on the Kenai Peninsula.

Besides a comprehensive education campaign that includes trail signs, other recommendations include having state fish and wildlife biologists come up with a plan to prevent anglers from stumbling into known bear feeding areas.

Copies of the draft strategy, which includes summaries of the latest scientific findings about Peninsula grizzlies, will be distributed to libraries, state Department of Fish and Game offices and online for a 30-day public review.

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On the web: Follow links to wildlife planning on the Fish and Game Web site at www.state.ak.us.



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