Jennifer Christopherson is the Alaska Outreach Coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife and is based in Anchorage, Alaska. (Courtesy photo)

Jennifer Christopherson is the Alaska Outreach Coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife and is based in Anchorage, Alaska. (Courtesy photo)

Voices of the Peninsula: Staying safe in bear country

Bears get into trouble because they are driven by their noses.

  • Thursday, March 5, 2020 11:12pm
  • Opinion

Spring is around the corner, which means one thing — bears will soon emerge from their dens.

Alaska is home to more than 98% of the brown bears in the United States and 70% of the brown bears in North America. But, over the last 200 years, the number and range of brown bears south of Canada has steeply declined by more than 95% because of habitat loss and human conflicts. Learning to coexist with bears is important for keeping Alaska wild and protecting our jobs and economy.

The Kenai Peninsula is a great place to view bears and for many visitors, one of the biggest draws to Alaska is the prospect of seeing bears in the wild. Conserving bears also protects our businesses and tourism industry. A study released in 2019 found that the bear-viewing industry brings in millions of dollars to Southcentral Alaska’s economy. Experts have estimated that bear viewing brings in about $34 million in sales — and injects about $19 million into the local economy.

More than 20 years ago, Alaska Department of Fish and Game listed the Kenai Peninsula population of brown bears as a “species of special concern” citing that the population “is vulnerable to a significant decline due to low numbers, restricted distribution, dependence on limited habitat resources or sensitivity to environmental disturbance.”

While the state eliminated this list in 2011, Kenai’s brown bears nonetheless remain an isolated, at-risk population, and share our landscape. Therefore it is important for people and landowners to take safety precautions to reduce risk and conflicts.

Bears get into trouble because they are driven by their noses — which in turn, leads to conflict with humans. Garbage, chicken coops, beehives, fruit trees and other sources of enticing odors can draw hungry and curious brown and black bears to your property. Properly installed bear-resistant electric fencing is a simple and effective way to deter them.

This is why Defenders of Wildlife is working with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, other partners and property owners on the Kenai Peninsula to ensure that electric fences, food storage lockers, bear-resistant carts and other tools are in place to reduce these conflicts so that Alaskans can better coexist with bears.

In March, Defenders of Wildlife and Alaska Department of Fish and Game will be hosting a series of free workshops to initiate our electric fence subsidy program on Kenai Peninsula. Since 2010, the program has supported nearly 300 electric fencing projects in multiple states — defusing conflict and protecting people, property and bears. Join us to learn about electric fences and easy bear aware measures to keep both people and bears safe.

If you live or own property on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Defenders of Wildlife’s Electric Fence Incentive Program can help you design and pay for an electrified barrier to keep bears out of things they shouldn’t get into. Our aim is to reduce human-bear conflicts that often result in dead bears, and we are using a number of strategies to reduce conflicts, with the hope that Alaskans ultimately will better coexist with bears.

Join us for our Free Bear Aware and Electric Fence Workshops in Kenai, Soldotna and Seward from March 17-19, 2020. All are welcomed to attend, but only Kenai residents qualify for the electric fence subsidy program. Visit www.defenders.org/gotgriz to learn more.

Jennifer Christopherson is the Alaska Outreach Coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife and is based in Anchorage, Alaska.


Jennifer Christopherson is the Alaska Outreach Coordinator for Defenders of Wildlife and is based in Anchorage, Alaska.


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