KODIAK (AP) -- Intending to protect Kodiak brown bear habitat, a coalition of conservation groups has bought more than 200 acres around the Sturgeon Lagoon.
The 16-mile-long Sturgeon River, which empties into the lagoon, is located at the southwest end of the island near the village of Karluk. The four parcels that were purchased were originally part of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, but were placed in private hands as part of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980.
''This is a really neat achievement,'' said Tim Richardson, the executive director of the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust, a conservation organization focused on bear habitat. ''It means this area will be kept free of human development incompatible with brown bears.''
The parcels were the last half of eight pieces of property around the lagoon that were owned by willing sellers.
''With the acquisitions that have just occurred, there have been 812 acres protected (around the lagoon) for bears, eagles, and salmon,'' Richardson told The Kodiak Daily Mirror.
The Sturgeon River has one of the largest chum salmon runs on the island and the early-timing of the run provides an essential food source for Kodiak bears. The lagoon is the rearing area for young chum salmon and is a critical component of chum production in the system, according to Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association director Larry Malloy.
''By making sure the lagoon area remains undamaged, you are ensuring that the area is as productive as it can be over the long-term,'' Malloy said.
Three of the parcels will be conveyed to the refuge and will be managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
''Those tracts are right in the heart of brown bear country and would really hurt the habitat if they were developed,'' said refuge manager Jay Bellinger.
One small 33-acre parcel will be managed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game since it is outside of the refuge boundary.
''The Sturgeon River is very important to bears in the summertime,'' Fish and Game wildlife biologist Larry VanDaele said. ''If the fish population was hurt in any way, the bear population would be hurt as well.''
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