Spruce trees stand alongside Johnson Pass Trail in Chugach National Forest near Turnagain Pass. The Chugach, which spans the Gulf of Alaska across lower Southcentral Alaska, is celebrating its 99-year anniversary with events that continue this weekend.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Chugach National Forest, created in 1907 by President Teddy Roosevelt, is in the limelight this week during the Wild Chugach Days celebration, and a fishing clinic on the Russian River on Saturday aims to teach anglers how to deal with the wildness of the forest’s wilderness.
The celebration, which includes events in Seward, Anchorage, Girdwood and Cooper Landing, has a name inspired by the untamed nature of the forest, which covers 5.5 million acres and is 98 percent roadless.
Fitting, then, that fishermen attending the Russian River Angler Clinic from 10 a.m. to noon at the Russian River ferry should begin with some education on bear safety.
Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the goal of the bear safety portion is to keep the river’s bears wild and at a safe distance from Chugach visitors.
“Our goal is to help people learn how not to teach bears to associate people with food,” Lewis said.
Doing that is a matter of minimizing artificially created food sources for bears, such as large salmon carcasses tossed into the river or long stringers of fish, backpacks and coolers left far from bear-spooking human activity, he said.
“These are not movie star or circus bears,” Lewis said. “These are wild animals and need to be respected as such.”
Keeping food and camping supplies close is important, but he said he hopes the clinic will help anglers break bear-baiting habits. Many anglers simply toss fish carcasses into a river after cleaning their catch and have done so for as long as they have fished.Such behavior is particularly dangerous on the Russian, Lewis said.
“Unfortunately there, you’ve got a lot of people catching a lot of fish. The carcasses just pile up and then you’ve got an easy food source for bears,” he said. “When you throw a big carcass into the river, it just goes until it catches something.”
Lewis said carcasses should be chopped up before being thrown back into the Russian’s waters.
If river visitors do see a bear, there is one other thing to remember:
“Don’t surrender anything to the bear,” Lewis said.
Lewis said Chugach visitors who would throw food at a bear to distract it are simply teaching bears to associate people with food.
Wind from Turnagain Arm shapes a hemlock growing on a nearby bluff.
Clarion file photo
Once anglers at the clinic familiarize themselves with bear safety, the fish talk can officially begin.
According to Tim McKinley, an area research supervisor with Fish and Game, anglers will be given a quick demonstration on proper fly fishing techniques, tips for using them on the Russian and which flies promise the best success.
Wild Chugach Days offers more than fishing and safety tips this weekend, though.
A Chiqinik Ch’etni “We Say Thank You” event will take place at the K’beq Cultural Site at Mile 52.6 of the Sterling Highway from noon to 7 p.m. today. The Kenaitze Indian Tribe IRA will host the event, which includes storytelling, educational activities, guided archeological tours and Indian ice cream making.
Fans of fitness and the forest can sign up for Saturday’s Chugach Challenge Triathlon as individuals or part of a team. The triathlon has a 5-kilometer boat race, a 20-kilometer bike race and a 5-kilometer run. It all gets moving at 1 p.m. at Summit Lake Lodge, Mile 45.5 of the Sterling Highway.
For more information on any of the Wild Chugach Days events or to register for the triathlon, visit www.akcenter.org.
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