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The Green Life: Alaska's Kodiak Island Restarts its Bear-Viewing Program

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December 02, 2010

Alaska's Kodiak Island Restarts its Bear-Viewing Program

Kodiak BearIt's been 17 years since visitors to Alaska's Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge could catch a glimpse of the bears along the O'Malley River, home of one of the world's thickest concentrations of Kodiak brown bears.

According to refuge manager Gary Wheeler, opening up the river, which is in Kodiak Island's southwest corner, to the new O'Malley Bear Viewing Program wouldn't disturb the massive Kodiak bears, which are unique to the archipelago. "I think it will be a good program, so I hope folks take advantage of it," he said.

The O'Malley River area was previously closed to bear-watching when fears arose that the bears' eating habits were being disturbed. With the new program, visitors will have the opportunity to take a four-day park-sanctioned trip led by one of the refuge's official guides. No new campsites or facilities will be added, other than a 12-by-20-foot viewing platform over the river, to be built this summer.

This also means that the O'Malley River area will be open to visitors during summer for the first time since 1994. "It's pretty rare to have any tourist area in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge system that is closed to visitors during the summer months," said supervisory manager Brian Glaspell.

The brown bears are a huge draw for visitors to Kodiak Island, which has about 3,000 bears. However, there are concerns about how the new platform and additional visitors could affect the bears' habits.

Nevertheless, officials of the 2 million-acre Kodiak National WIldlife Refuge are optimistic. "We're all pretty excited to see this get going," Glaspell said. "It's been a long time coming."

--Ronny Smith

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