Tuesday, June 1, 2010
As the newest team member to join B.E.A.R.S. of Alaska at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) or what I will propose that we consider promoting as the B.E.A.R.S. of Alaska Institute at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) , I feel most honored to have been invited back by old friends and colleagues to assist in an advisory and consulting capacity for the planning of this state-of-the-art interpretive education and conservation advocacy center for bears of this frontier state (one of the few places in the US where you will find virtually syntopic populations of brown bear (grizzly), and black bear and the only place perhaps to one day see, three sympatric ursid populations (polar, brown, and black bear) as climate change and other anthropogenic factors influence the available resources these bear species need or use to survive).
I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to work with a progressive, genuine and committed living institution staff. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center’s team of wildlife professionals are acclaimed for reintroducing the state’s functionally extinct wood buffalo (bison), North America’s largest terrestrial mammal back into Alaska’s wilderness (in partnership with Alaska’s Department of Fish & Game and other agencies).
But getting back to B.E.A.R.S. This opportunity to reach visitors from around the world and citizens from Alaska and introduce them to bears, not far from where these ursids find refuge and continue to thrive whether in inland boreal forests, Southern rustic coastlines, or in Northern tundra ecosystems, is unprecedented. The B.E.A.R.S of Alaska Institute at AWCC, my working title for the exhibit and interpretive center, will be footsteps away from the great wilderness where bears are still much at home. This center is poised to really shape a healthy and positive perception of bears before viewing them as eco-tourists, campers or as other recreational visitors before simply heading of f to explore the great state so that is so well noted for its rich natural heritage.
The opportunity to work with this institute couldn’t come at a better time as I’ m spearheading a conservation education/education working group (committee precursor) for IBA. The B.E.A.R.S. center is dedicated to the advancement of bear science, education, awareness (advocacy), research and outreach and hopefully we can work together with partner organizations to further mutual interests in raising awareness for all bear species. On behalf of Alaska’s newest terrestrial carnivore and native ungulate wildlife conservation and rehabilitation center, I feel poised to bring this project to fruition with the help of so many of my colleagues among captive wildlife professionals, from the Alaska Zoo to the fellow advisors on the AZA Bear TAG to the leadership of EAZA’s Carnivore Conservation Campaign to fellow council, and ex officio members and officers of the International Association for Bear Research & Management, and the Bear Specialist and Polar Bear Specialist Groups of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
As much as I hope to draw attention to the plight of the five remaining extant species of bears there is so much to share with native Alaskans and residents of this frontier state. I hope to highlight the work of the IBA biologists dedicated to bear conservation research and management efforts for North American bear species in Alaska, but hopefully in other regions of the country where pressing conservation issues draw much concern for our ability to continue to coexist in a world over-populated with people. We would be remiss not to address the five remaining species of concern. I also want to work with other conservationists and investigators who have documented the culture of bears as never seen before. One highly respected bear viewing guide asked me in the field one day if bears have culture, and my response was that you’re looking at it. Learned behaviors are passed down among subpopulations of all kinds of species from chimps, to orca, and coastal brown bears congregating to feed are no exception.
Speaking of culture, we would be also be remiss to not address the great impact brown bears, polar bears, and black bears have had on indigenous cultures over 100′s of years. And today, as we interface with these fascinating and highly intelligent animals, the largest of North American carnivores, we need to find a way to live with them as mindful and respectful co-inhabitants of a changing landscape, with concerns over the impact of climate change, among other things, and not as fearful and reactive competitors for space. These are the kinds of things we may want to bring to the attention of people as we consider how best to utilize an interpretive center for the benefit of human-bear relations impacting future generations of bears and people.
I visited AWCC and staff on my way to Katmai to work on brown bear projects on multiple excursions and before heading north to Barrow and east to Admiralty Island . I am most appreciative to be invited back as an advisor to the project and more recently in a more official capacity as a consultant to the project. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get more involved with this exciting project.
Education has always been at the forefront of the mission at the AWCC, and although they spearhead in situ and ex situ conservation programs in partnership with various research entities at the local, state, and federal levels, they are well aware of the importance of developing outreach programs and providing resources for educating citizens and visitors to Alaska with respect to the state’s wildlife species. The AWCC is poised to make the citizens of Alaska keenly aware of the plight of Alaska’s bear populations as encroachment on habitat and other human activities, as well as climate change continue to threaten these iconic predators that continue to find refuge in Alaska. The B.E.A.R.S. of Alaska Institute will be instrumental in promoting awareness among the citizens of Alaska and it’s visitors from around the world in regard to the status of bears and will advocate as a conservation, education, and research center for North America’s Bears for years to come.
Jordan Schaul, PhD
B.E.A.R.S. of Alaska Institute,
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center