An Angoon family is in talks with a nonprofit organization to lease about 20 acres of land for a bear sanctuary near Eaglecrest Ski Area.
The Bear Education & Animal Rehabilitation Sanctuary Inc. has a "lease in principle" with Gabe George of Angoon and his family, BEARS Inc. Executive Director Chris Grant said. The parties have not signed a lease.
"We really want this to be an interactive tool for the Juneau-Douglas school district and tourism," Grant said. "We really want tourists to learn about Alaska and its people."
BEARS Inc. was formed as a nonprofit Alaska corporation in January 2002. It is run by volunteers.
The George family is trying to exchange a 100-acre Native allotment on Admiralty Island for about 220 acres of U.S. Forest Service land on Douglas Island. Once that happens, the plan is for BEARS Inc. to lease 20 of the Douglas Island acres, located about three miles up Fish Creek Road - 112 miles from Eaglecrest.
Heirs of the Jimmy George estate own the property in the south arm of Hood Bay, within the Kootznoowoo Wilderness of Admiralty Island National Monument. The Forest Service wants to preserve that land.
George said he's been working with the Forest Service for eight years on the exchange. Once he gets the deed to the Douglas Island property, he can formalize an agreement with BEARS Inc.
George said he would use other parts of the land to build rental cabins and houses for his family, some of whom live in Juneau.
Now that BEARS Inc. has a "lease in principle," Grant said it can begin its fund-raising campaign.
BEARS Inc. needs to raise $8 million to $10 million to build the facility. It will mainly target charitable foundations and private donations. The nonprofit has not been awarded any money yet, Grant said. It also plans to make money from cruise ship passengers and grassroots fund-raising.
The group hopes to have funding for 10 paid staff positions next year, Grant said. Eventually it hopes to have 20 full-time employees in the off-season and 40 in the summer.
It will take at least a year to landscape the area and build the sanctuary, Grant said. It could be completed by the spring of 2007 or 2008, depending on funding, he said.
The sanctuary will exhibit brown and black Alaska bears, and have an educational component consisting of about four Native longhouses that are connected by outdoor paths. It also will offer a small food service area and gift shop.
"I see education as being a big part of what they're going to do up there," George said.
The sanctuary would initially be powered by diesel generators, but the nonprofit would prefer electricity eventually, BEARS Inc. Vice President Skye Stekoll said.
That could be good news for Eaglecrest, which has been trying to secure electricity from a power grid source instead of generators.
Stekoll and Eaglecrest Business Manager Gary Mendivil both said they'd be interested in splitting the cost of having electricity. Eaglecrest is the only customer on the road now, and costs have been prohibitive, Mendivil said.
Mendivil said the sanctuary could complement Eaglecrest's plans to turn the ski area into a year-round attraction, but he'd need to know more about the project.
The bears on exhibit would be older animals that cannot be rehabilitated from getting into garbage, Stekoll said. Younger bears rehabilitate better, he said. The bears could not be released back into the wild because the state prohibits rehabilitation and release.
At some point, BEARS Inc. would like to build a wildlife clinic and experiment with rehabilitation and release, Grant said. That would include aversion conditioning, which teaches bears to change their eating habits.
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