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Pigs to test tanks as possible future site for bears

Posted: Thursday, August 28, 2003

SITKA (AP) Sitka is better known for fishing than farming, but a local group has started raising pigs.

Six young pigs were flown to the Southeast community last week from the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, arriving in large dog kennels.

The pig project is intended as a steppingstone for Kootznahoo, Fortress of the Bears, a group whose real ambition is raising bears.

The organization wants to create a tourist attraction by keeping bears that have become a problem because they are accustomed to eating human garbage. Kootznahoo has proposed holding the bears in two large clarifier tanks at the former Sitka pulp mill site.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is requiring the group to prove it can handle animals on the site for a year before it will consider permitting Kootznahoo to raise bears.

The newly arrived pigs are currently out of public view, living in a 20-by-13-foot pen inside one of the clarifier tanks.

Les Kinnear, director of Kootznahoo, said once additional cleanup is completed, the pigs will be allowed to run free in the tank, which is 192 feet in diameter.

The pigs could divert some waste from Sitka garbage cans, Kinnear said. He's willing to take discarded food from markets and restaurants to help feed the animals.

''The scraps that you're leaving on the table this afternoon would do quite well for a number of our patrons,'' Kinnear said at a recent Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The project can also take compost materials from the community, particularly yard debris, for a planned composting trough that will handle the pigs' solid waste.

One of the conditions of using the site is that it cannot generate an objectionable odor. Kinnear said by using a vented trough system and holding tanks, the smell will be kept to a minimum. The soil generated by composting will be used to build habitat in the tanks, he said.

Eventually, the group plans for the two clarifier tanks to be joined by a tunnel constructed of 6-inch-diameter stainless steel pipe leftover from the mill. One tank will have an island in the middle surrounded by a 6-foot-deep moat, which will taper off to a foot at the edge.

Fresh water will be cycled through with a couple of small streams Kinnear plans to divert and use to build waterfalls.

Not everyone is happy with the project.

The Sitka Assembly provided $25,000 in seed money for the project, but a local environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, has pledged to take the project to court if necessary to stop it.

Kinnear is not sure what will become of the pigs after the test project is finished in a year. He suggested perhaps raffling them off or selling them as pets but not feeding them to the bears.



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