Conservation Fund buys bear habitat alongside Kenai River

Posted: Tuesday, April 10, 2001

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- An environmental group has purchased some critical brown bear habitat along the Kenai River.

The Conservation Fund last week bought six riverfront lots in thick spruce woods near where the Killey River joins the Kenai. Kenai River anglers know the spot as ''Wally's hole.''

Biologists said it's an area where spawned out salmon carcasses pile up every summer, attracting a number of hungry brown bears.

The largely undeveloped waterfront on the southern bank of the Kenai faces the Kenai Keys, a subdivision on the river's accessible northern shore crowded with recreational cabins and busy with boats and anglers each summer.

Brad Meiklejohn, the Conservation Fund's Alaska spokesman, said the group has been working on buying the land since 1995 from its owner, Wallace J. Wellenstein of Anchorage.

Wellenstein was interested in protecting the property but took some persuading, Meiklejohn said.

The purchase is the third in a recent series of conservation land deals along the Killey River.

In 1997, The Nature Conservancy accepted a 40-acre donation from the owner of a 1949 Killey River homestead that borders the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The conservancy closed a deal a year ago with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to buy 160 more acres along the river.

At only 8 acres, this latest purchase is much smaller but is significant because the shoreline is such a bear magnet and because Kenai riverfront lots are selling as fast as developers can build new cabins, Meiklejohn said.

Just one lot has a tiny shack, he told the Anchorage Daily News. The rest are untouched. According to the agreement, Wellenstein was allowed to retain use of the small cabin for his lifetime.

The Killey River area has attracted conservationists since the mid-1990s, when biologists identified it as critical habitat for the Kenai Peninsula's isolated population of brown bears.

It's a largely undeveloped zone between Sterling and Skilak Lake where the bodies of millions of spawned-out red salmon collect each summer. Bears congregate to fatten for winter, said Sean Farley, a state research biologist who heads an interagency brown bear study team.

Money for the purchase was provided by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund of San Francisco.

Purchase price was not disclosed.

The Conservation Fund, a national nonprofit organization, has made more than 70 real estate deals in Alaska, most of them for habitat protection.

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