Alaska Digest

Posted: Monday, January 09, 2006

Collars map moves of Anchorage bears

ANCHORAGE - Bears are not shying away from Alaska's largest city.

A military-funded survey that tagged nine grizzly bears with radio-controlled collars to track their movements in Anchorage found they don't simply forage into the city on food runs before going back into the Chugach Mountains.

In fact, a few found city creeks a good way to fatten up.

Biologists don't know how many bears live in and near Anchorage, but by extrapolating data from studies in the Susitna Valley, they estimate about 60 brown, or grizzly bears, live between the Knik River and Turnagain Arm.

About another dozen are believed to forage in or near Anchorage. Black bears are more plentiful, with an estimated 250 living in the area. Of those, officials say a third will forage in or near the city.

"It's kind of startling to realize these brown bears are in our midst," state research biologist Sean Farley, who oversaw the research, told the Anchorage Daily News.

"There is not another city like this in the world that has wild brown bears in this close proximity to people like we have here," he said. "To have bears come in so close to people and not cause problems is really remarkable."

Scientists said Anchorage's creek bottoms, mountain slopes and parklands offer excellent habitat for bears, and the tracking study provides new information about not only their travels in town, but also their behavior.

Nine bears captured last May were fitted with special collars that can log locations every 90 minutes, and the data showed the bears traveled near homes and busy Anchorage streets. The study concludes next summer.

"We thought they were using the creek and moving off, but they're using the creek and staying. They're living in Far North Bicentennial Park," assistant area biologist Jessy Coltrane, who helped Farley with the study, told the Daily News.

Forestry officials approve timber sale

WASILLA - Despite opposition, state forestry officials have approved selling about 1,300 acres of timber off Petersville Road, near the popular fishing stream, Kroto Creek.

State forest officials reviewed 30 comments - most from opponents - on the harvest before giving the go-ahead. Opponents have until Jan. 24 to appeal.

Among state forestry requirements for the sale are leaving behind snags - two per acre for birds and other wildlife - and keeping buffers from key roads. The closest logging to Petersville road will be a half mile away, and the closest to Kroto Creek is three quarters of a mile, the decision states.

The logging work - which would take place in the winter - will be divided into 35 subunits in the 1,300 acres, buffered by streams and wetlands where logging will not be allowed.

State Forester Rick Jandreau said if the decision stands, operations would likely start next winter. The sale is the state's largest timber offering in the Mat-Su Valley in nearly two decades.

Japan flights boost Fairbanks tourism

FAIRBANKS - A place known for its winter darkness is getting a tourism boost from the land of the rising sun.

About 2,200 hundred Japanese visitors will take advantage of direct flights between Japan and Fairbanks this winter.

Some of those tourists were on a 231-foot long Boeing 747-400 that department Fairbanks International Airport last week, the largest airplane at the airport in at least 20 years, airport officials said.

"It's gotta be the most passengers," airport manager Jesse VanderZanden told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Seven direct charter flights between Japan and Fairbanks are behind the boost in tourism. The charters cut the flying time between Japan and Fairbanks from about 20 hours to seven hours.

Film crews to hit Kodiak in February

KODIAK - Kodiak will be awash with film crews this February.

Besides the crew on the base to shoot a Kevin Costner/Ashton Kutcher movie, the History Channel will be back on the island for a piece on uniquely Alaska jobs.

The History Channel is looking for "jobs of rich history," something they found at Air Station Kodiak, said Julie Pryor with Moore Huntley Productions, the company producing the piece.

"We're just trying to get a sense of a day in the life of a Coast Guard member," she said.

The crew also spent a week in Kodiak in September, but the weather was gorgeous the entire time.

By returning in February, the film crew aims to capture work in adverse conditions, Pryor said. The two-hour special is slated to air in early summer.

The section on the Coast Guard profiles some of the bigger search and rescue missions, among them last year's Selendang Ayu rescue mission.

The crew interviewed Coast Guard pilot Dave Neel, who flew the helicopter that crashed during the mission. Pryor called the mission "an unbelievable tale."

"As someone from the lower 48, it's just amazing to me that this occurred," she said of Selendang Ayu wreck. "Very few people know about it"

Other uniquely Alaskan jobs featured will include truckers on the Dalton Highway, glacier pilots, railroaders, the territorial guard, Alaska Scouts and North Slope drillers. But not crab fishermen.

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