Problem bears to get bright new colors

Officials hope easy identification will ward off encounters

Posted: Monday, May 21, 2007

KENAI - It's hard to identify a problem bear unless it's rifling through your backpack or charging you on the trail.

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Now, a plan is under way to identify problem bears on the Russian River by marking them with some bright new colors.

Wildlife authorities are hoping the plan will head off problems between bears and humans before they start this year.

"We're continually working on the best way to manage the area," said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna.

Fish and Game was recently involved in a meeting between the U.S. Forest Service, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and other agencies involved in the management of the area.

Selinger said several new techniques will be employed this year, including one that will be challenging for wildlife authorities, given the terrain and high numbers of people who frequent this popular spot.

"We're going to attempt to capture and mark at least four bears that have frequented the area in years past if they show up again," he said.

Fish and Game will attempt to bleach patches of hair on the bear's body and then brightly color them with dye for easy identification.

"We'll use specific color codes to tell the bears apart and we may do two areas, such as the head and neck and also the rear, so bears can be identified coming and going," Selinger said.

The bright colors will allow fishermen, tourists, campers, ferry service employees and others in the area to easily and reliably identify the bears even in low-light conditions.

"We want to start to have a known history for the bears, so that we can track which ones walk away when confronted by people and which ones demonstrate escalating behaviors," Selinger said.

In addition to the bear identification plan, Selinger said the "Stop, Chop and Throw" campaign will be promoted again this year. This technique is employed as a way of eliminating fish carcasses by having fishermen cut them into small chunks that drift away easier than whole carcasses, and by throwing these chucks into the center of the river, where they are most likely to be swept downstream and into deep water beyond the reach of bears.

To aid fishermen in this effort, Selinger said grinders will be available in the Russian River area for the first time this summer.

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