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Hand that feeds bites Alaska campers
By ANNE AURAND
Anchorage Daily News

 

August 01, 2006
Tuesday


ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Humans have allowed bears to take food from their coolers and backpacks one time too many, so wildlife officials on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula are cracking down.

New restrictions on the Russian and Kenai rivers are meant to break the cycle of bears getting food from people in an effort to head off potential maulings or bear shootings.

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Tent camping is no longer allowed in the Russian River campground. Campers must sleep in a hard-shelled vehicle. This comes after a bear grabbed a man sleeping in his tent early Saturday morning. He suffered minor injuries.

And no one is allowed on the Russian River and parts of the Kenai between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. This applies from the Russian River Falls down to the power line crossing on the Kenai River.

Coolers, backpacks and anything with a scent that might attract a bear must be kept "within your grasp." That means carry it or put it in your car.

Violating the new rules can cost $125.

All three restrictions are in effect "until further notice." Maybe until the sockeye salmon run ends. Maybe until there's 100 percent compliance. Maybe forever, said Rebecca Talbott, spokeswoman for the Chugach National Forest.

"What has prompted this is bears getting food from people," said Talbott. "We need to break that cycle of bears associating food with people"

This summer has seen a series of bear-human conflicts. Every day, bears get food or fish from unattended daypacks or coolers, wildlife officials said. This trains bears to associate people with food, and the bears are getting bold and aggressive.

Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge have temporarily closed the river at night before, including last year for a couple weeks, said refuge manager Robin West.

Food storage rules have existed for years in campgrounds as well, but the "within grasp" rule along the river is new, Talbott said. If people comply and bears learn not to associate people with food, maybe they'll recall the rule, she said. But more likely, she added, "this is probably the future."

 

Contact Anne Aurand at aaurand(at)adn.com
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com

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