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Friends of McNeil River

The Alaskan Brown Bears that visit the McNeil River falls are very special to us. These bears have become "human neutral" and will allow visitors to watch them catch salmon, and even nurse their cubs within 20 feet of humans. This display of trust has been built up over many years. The area around the falls was designated the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in 1967, and since then the Department of Fish and Game has controlled human activities, not the bears.

We feel this unique trust warrants special consideration, and we have helped lead an advocacy group, the Friends of McNeil River, in protesting intolerable management practices that political pressures may try to impose in the area.

Friends of McNeil River is a diverse group of individuals from around the world. Members include teachers, nurses, auto mechanics, writers, photographers, dentists, doctors, technicians - people from all walks of life. The members are outdoor enthusiasts that have a great common concern - the welfare of Alaska's world famous McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and its magnificent brown bears. Many members have had the opportunity to go to McNeil River and walk among the "people neutral" bears that make this area so unique. No where else in the world can you observe up to 60 of Alaska's Brown Bears at one time, watch over 100 bears per day come to catch fish or watch a sow nurse her spring cubs only 20 feet away - and all the while know that these bears accept your presence.

In our ever shrinking world, even the wildest places need protection from the heavy hand of man. As remote as Alaska and McNeil River seem, there are many threats that can change this great wildlife observation opportunity. Friends of McNeil River first became a powerful influence in management of the area when we challenged the construction of a fish ladder to establish a fisheries in the nearby sterile Paint River drainage. None of the agencies that worked on this commercial fisheries project had addressed the potential impacts of drawing the bears away from the McNeil viewing area, or considered they may be concentrated in an area open to bear hunting during hunting season. Friends filed a law suit that resulted in the state legislature creating the McNeil River State Game REFUGE, some 120,000 acres, as a special management area to support the McNeil River bear viewing program. The suit has also focused more attention to monitoring the "human neutral" characteristics of the bears and their management. Hunting in the Sanctuary was closed by legislation decades ago.

Now the efforts of "Friends" is to support use of the McNeil River Game Sanctuary and Refuge to study bears, bear needs and habits, and to educate people of proper etiquette when in bear country.

For information on the viewing program and lottery for access permits, check out the State of Alaska's home page on McNeil River's bear viewing program. (Clicking on the link will open a new window.You'll need to close the window to return here.)

The latest campaign we led to protect the McNeil River Bears was in 2007. Details below:

Thank You All!
It Worked!
The McNeil River Bears
are now safer.

Thank you for caring! You prevented trophy hunters from killing trusting wild bears. During the March, 2007, Board of Game meeting in Alaska, the board voted to reverse it's earlier decision to allow a hunt of the McNeil River and Katmai bears on land adjacent to the sanctuary!

If you haven't already done so, please take a few minutes to watch our "Don't Let Them Shoot McNeil River Bears" video posted on YouTube. The bears of McNeil River, and the nearby Katmai National Park, depended on you, and over 600 people wrote individual, handwritten letters to the Board of Game members in support of the bears! That is phenomenal! It is widely accepted that one individually written letter is worth at least 100 signatures on a petition, so that is equal to at least 60,000 petition signatures!

We needed your help. Even though many of you don't live in Alaska, or the United States, these are world famous bears and you had a right to speak up for them...AND YOU DID! We received letters of support from all over the globe.

We can't thank you enough!

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Photo credit:
Jan Giezentanner


In October, 2005, the Keelers were given the honor of being selected as two of the 40 founding members of the International League of Conservation Photographers. The ILCP was initially founded with 40 Fellows considered to be some of the most talented and passionate nature and wildlife photographers of our generation.


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Wilderness Inspirations - P.O. Box 433 - Emigrant, Montana 59027 - 406-333-4366