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Arctic Science Journeys
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Bucks for Bears

INTRO: Hunters and businesses help wildlife officials get more bang for their buck in their effort to understand polar bears. The story, next on Arctic Science Journeys Radio.

STORY: No one really knows just how many polar bears roam the pack ice between Alaska and Siberia. Likewise, biologists can only guess when and where the bears make their dens. Scientists say such questions remain unanswered because of the high cost of conducting research in the Arctic. A plan that matches fees paid by hunters with contributions from corporations may help. Marshall Jones is the assistant director for International Affairs with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C.

JONES: "These are fees paid by hunters for the privilege of being able to import the polar bear trophies, but then we're going to match those through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation with additional money. All of that will go into polar bear conservation in Alaska and Russia at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer."

Amendments made to the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1994 permit American hunters to import polar bear trophies taken in Canada, where bear populations are considered healthy. Hunters pay a one thousand dollar import fee to bring each trophy across the border. The money goes to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit agency established by Congress to act as a kind of financial manager. The foundation seeks matching dollars from corporate and private donors. Tom Mealeus is director of conservation policy at the foundation.

MEALEUS: "I would anticipate that $80,000 worth of import fee moneys have already been put into the pipeline, and what we intend to do is leverage that money by at least a one to one and hopefully a two to one ratio where we can have close to $160,000 to 200,000 dollars going back towards on-the-ground conservation projects for the polar bear."

Those additional dollars likely would come from hunting groups or large corporations, says Mealeus. He says corporations such as International Paper and Exxon donate millions each year to projects aimed at restoring wetlands and protecting endangered species.

MEALEUS: "One of the groups we've been looking at is the Safari Club International. It is an organization that has been involved with polar bear conservation efforts over the last several years. We've had some preliminary meetings with their executive director and their president which has indicated a strong desire to see if contributions can be made toward this fund."

Dave McGillivary heads the marine mammals division with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska. He says the polar bear fund will allow researchers to learn more about the polar bears that call both Alaska and Siberia their home.

MCGILLIVARY: "Our estimate of the population in the Chikot stock of polar bears is merely that, an estimate. So we're hoping to get a better handle on the status of the population, and do some den surveys on Wrangel Island in Russia to see how the success is going, how many dens are in the Wrangel Island area."

Combining public money with contributions from industry isn't a new strategy for getting more bang for the buck. But as federal dollars become scarce, such collaborations have become fashionable for both industry and the taxpayer.

OUTRO: For Arctic Science Journeys Radio, this is Robert Hannon reporting from Fairbanks, Alaska.

Arctic Science Journeys is a radio service highlighting science, culture, and the environment of the circumpolar north. Produced by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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