Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Annual Bearfest to highlight effects of climate change


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

One of Bearfest's bears reminds City Market patrons about the upcoming annual festival, which starts Wednesday. A new bear gets decorated each year by a different local artist. The design for this year's bear is in the hands of Brenda Schwartz-Yeager and will be unveiled at the festival.

Wrangell's Sixth Annual Bearfest kicks off next week, running from July 22 to 26. Celebrating Alaska's bears, the festival features a variety of family-fun events, including workshops, food, music, a marathon, and lectures.

Started in 2010 by Alaska Vistas operator Sylvia Ettefagh, the festival highlights Wrangell as a prime destination for bear enthusiasts.

Wrangell is the nearest community to Tongass National Forest's Anan Wildlife Observatory, located on

the mainland about 30 miles to its southeast. Each summer the observatory offers visitors a unique opportunity to view brown and black bears in the wild, drawn by Anan's

substantial pink salmon run each year.

More than just enjoying bears, Bearfest gives residents and visitors an opportunity to learn about them as well. The annual symposium brings in experts from around the world to present current research findings and discuss topics important to the region's black and brown bear population.

At this year's symposium, on Wednesday evening, researcher Lance Craighead will give a presentation on bears and climate change from a United States policy

perspective. Wildlife scientist Brian Horejsi will explain bear landscape politics in Canada, contrasting it with U.S. policy and law. Wrapping up the evening, Harry Reynolds returns with an update on his work in Mongolia's Gobi Desert.

The symposium continues Thursday evening, with wildlife biologist Andrew Von Duyke presenting on bears and grizzlies on the North Slope. Following this, biologist and author Mattias Breiter will explain the effects of climate change on the polar bear population in Canada's Hudson Bay region.

Wrangell Ranger District staff will also participate during Bearfest's symposium, leading discussions Wednesday afternoon on the management of the Anan Wildlife Observatory. Bobbie Jo Skibo from the Chugach National Forest has also been invited to share her experiences of managing bear-human interactions on the Kenai Peninsula.

Forest Service employees will also provide programs for children and families during the festival, giving participants a chance to make bear masks, learn how to set up camp in bear country, and "Read with a Ranger and Smokey."

For entertainment, bluegrass band Todd Grebe & Cold Country have been invited to perform at Rayme's Bar on Friday night and the Elks Lodge on Saturday. There will also be films screened throughout the five-day festival, including children's favorites like "Over the Hedge" and "Brother Bear" and documentaries such as "Katmai: Alaska's Wild Peninsula."

The annual Bearfest Golf Tournament tees off at Muskeg Meadows Saturday morning.

Workshops throughout the festival give visitors the chance to hone different skills, including photography, salmon cookery, and music. People can experience local culture as well, with a salmon bake held at the Wrangell Cooperative Association's new carving facility Saturday evening.

The festival concludes on Sunday with a full marathon that morning. Participants can also run or walk a half-marathon and 5K. Afterward, a raffle drawing will be held for two roundtrip tickets provided by Alaska Airlines, which are good systemwide.

For more information and specific times, check out the schedule inserted into this week's Wrangell Sentinel, or visit Bearfest's website http://www.alaskabearfest.org.


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