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Bear Viewing Program Returns to Kodiak Refuge

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reinstate a guided brown bear viewing program in the O'Malley River area of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, May 3.

Bear viewing was suspended in 1994 after legal challenges to the process used to select a private contractor to run the program.

Until 1992, the O'Malley River area was open to unregulated public use, including guided and unguided day use and overnight camping. In 1992, after determining that unregulated public use was having unacceptable impacts on bears, due to tourists feeding them, the refuge temporarily closed the area. In 1993, a contractor conducted successful bear viewing expeditions, but the refuge suspended the program after a dispute with contractors who had not been selected to run the expeditions. Then, the agency permanently closed the 2,500 acre O'Malley River area.

The refuge supports five major salmon runs and the O'Malley River maintains an abundant sockeye salmon run that supports more than 200 bears from mid-June to September as the bears gorge themselves to fatten up for winter.

The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge spreads across almost 2 million acres and encompasses several islands about 230 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska. Access to the refuge is by boat and float plane. Bear viewing is the single most popular activity in the refuge followed by tent camping, sport-hunting and fishing.

The rules reopening the bear-viewing program also prohibit tent camping within a quarter mile of any of the nine public use cabins in the refuge or administrative facilities and creates a one-mile buffer zone restricting camping near the O'Malley River bear viewing area.

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