Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
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KODIAK: Study Shows Bear Viewing Concerns
Alaska Region, September 26, 2005
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Koniag, Inc., a Native Corporation on Kodiak Island, conducts a successful bear viewing program at Thumb River through a Conservation Easement with the Refuge. Over the years, issues have developed about how such bear viewing should be managed. Most bear viewers want a ?trophy? in the form of a close brown bear photograph, such as can be obtained at more famous bear viewing areas like the State of Alaska's MacNeil River and National Park Service's Brooks Falls. Among the most interested and vocal stakeholders are professional photographers, always seeking a new site with better lighting and closest possible bear encounters. Koniag wanted to explore some options, so the Refuge turned to data from an extensive 1996 bear behavior study. Mapped observations were re-examined to answer the question, ?What would be the impact on bears of expanding the viewing program to the south side of Thumb River??

Study results show the alternate viewing site favored by photographers is also highly favored by bears. While most bear use within the area is actually in the river, especially the lower river away from the current viewing area, the next highest use areas are on the south side of the river where 72 percent of the observations occurred, mostly of family groups. The study concludes that changing the viewing program to use these areas would risk displacing bears even if viewing were discontinued in its present location. Worse yet is a scenario that allows viewing and access on both sides of the river, which would likely decrease the habitat quality of the area and cause some bears to leave.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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