Getting a handle on the Peninsula's brown bears

Posted: Friday, June 11, 2010

We heard an interesting announcement last week from biologists at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, who are undertaking a project to count the Peninsula brown bear population. This survey, which includes nearly 200 sites to collect hair for DNA sampling, is good news both for the bears and for those of us who live among them.

While biologists say the survey won't be the last word in measuring the Peninsula's brown bear population, it is a good step toward a more accurate estimate. To date, bear management decisions -- including the cancellation of recent brown bear hunts -- have been made based on an educated guess of the Peninsula's bear numbers.

"We don't have any empirical data. The results are going to be interesting," refuge biologist John Morton told the Clarion last week.

In the mean time, there's plenty Peninsula residents and visitors should do to prevent negative encounters with our local wildlife. After all, there aren't too many places on the Peninsula where we'd be surprised to come across a bear.

The Russian and upper Kenai rivers opened to salmon and trout fishing this morning, and state and federal agencies continue to work together to educate anglers on the best way to dispose of fish waste. Anglers are required to keep their gear and stringers of fish close at hand, to prevent a bear from finding easy pickings.

Anglers also are asked to carry their catch out whole, or use the fish cleaning stations set up at the Russian River ferry or at the confluence of the Russian and the Kenai. The goal is to avoid the build-up of fish carcasses along the stream banks, which has been attracting bears to the stream for the past several summers.

Recreationists in campgrounds are reminded to keep a clean site, and store all attractants in a bear-proof container or in a hard-sided camper or vehicle. On trails, hikers and bikers should be sure to make some noise so the bears know you're coming. Carry on a conversation with your hiking buddy, and clap or sing before entering an area with dense vegetation. Nobody likes to be surprised -- people and bears alike.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has worked hard to reduce human-bear conflicts in residential areas as well. Steps such as keeping trash and pet feed stored where bears can't get to them, installing electric fencing around chicken coops, and putting ratchet straps or locks on freezers, ensure that bears that do stray into a neighborhood simply pass through instead of staying for a meal.

For more information in living and recreating in bear country, check out Fish and Game's web page on bears:

Whether streamside or in a city subdivision, bears are simply being bears. They're looking for as many easy calories as they can find before they den up for the winter. They don't read regulation books, and it's unrealistic to expect wildlife managers to haze away the entire bear population.

The best way to control bear activity on the Peninsula is to encourage bear awareness and safe practices in people activity on the Peninsula.

In short: No matter the number of bears on the Peninsula, wildlife awareness in the best means for avoiding negative interactions.

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