(Juneau) - Representative Paul Seaton (R-Homer) has introduced legislation to safeguard bear viewing in the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, an important component of Alaska's tourism economy. HB 127 includes portions of the Kamishak Special Use Area (SUA) in the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary. In 2005, the Board of Game opened portions of the SUA to a brown bear hunt in 2007.
Without Game Board action or this legislation, a hunt will be allowed in the SUA this summer. The area that would be open to hunting lies in the heart of bear watching country.Ak St Legislature Majority
"This action was taken despite the opposition of hundreds of Alaskans, numerous Alaskan tourism industry groups, and against the recommendations of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game," Seaton said. "Bear viewing is a strong and growing part of the tourism industry in Southcentral Alaska, and in the rest of the state as well. Without Game Board action or this legislation, a hunt will be allowed in the SUA this summer. The area that would be open to hunting lies in the heart of bear watching country."
Bear viewing statistics from 2004 indicate that approximately 11,523 people participated in bear viewing in the McNeil/Katmai area. The economic value to Southcentral alone is estimated at $32,587,044. According to an Institute of Social and Economic Research study conducted in 2005, bear viewers spent $2828 per person on average in Alaska.
"I have heard from numerous constituents who support this legislation to increase protection for brown bear in this small part of House District 35," Seaton said. "HB 127 will have minimal impacts on current use patterns in the area. Commercial recreation such as guided fishing is already regulated in the area and the lodges are already are permitted for the sanctuary. This action would not affect commercial fishing in the area."
According to ADF&G, bear numbers in the McNeil River are have been on the decline, due in part to declining chum salmon runs and liberalized bear hunting seasons in the Game Management Unit, 9B, which borders to the north and west of the sanctuary.
HB 127 has been referred to the House Resources Committee for its cons