Interest in bear viewing has increased dramatically over the past few years, and with more people visiting prime brown bear habitat, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is making an effort to ensure the bruins aren't adversely affected by all the traffic.
Wolverine Creek, a small stream emptying into Big River Lakes in the Redoubt Bay State Critical Habitat Area on the west side of Cook Inlet, is one such location. The area has long been popular with fly-in fishers, and in recent years, charter outfits have brought clients there to views the bears that feed on the stream's salmon run.
Fish and Game wildlife biologist Joe Meehan said that visitation to the area has more than tripled in the past three years.
"Use has skyrocketed," Meehan said. "Last year, there were 7,500 visitors. In 1999, we estimated 2,000. This year, I don't know what we're going to get, but I suspect it's going to be in the ballpark (of 7,5000)."
To study interactions between humans and bears, Fish and Game has erected an observation tower near the creek.
"Primarily what we're looking at is the impacts of recreational use on bears -- the bears ability to feed at the site," Meehan said. "What we're trying to do is to better manage the site, and we'd like to know what's happening to the bears."
Meehan said that normally, the observation would be done from a tree stand, but the area just doesn't have many suitable trees.
The base of the tower was fabricated from welded aluminum in Anchorage and flown to the site, and the box on top is made from plywood.
Meehan said the tower may be the first of its kind used for studying bears, and provides researchers, who monitor the site around the clock, with a safe and discreet viewing location.
Some charter operators have complained that the tower takes away from the pristine beauty of Wolverine Creek. Meehan agreed, but said the tower would only be there through next summer.
"I would agree that it's not a very aesthetically pleasing structure, and we did think about that in the design of the thing," Meehan said. "We're only going to have it there for two summers, and the information we're trying to get will be very valuable in overall management and protection of the site.
"Really, it's a short-term intrusion, and there's already a lot of activity in there -- on some days, there's 20 or 25 boats."
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