KENAI, Alaska – Hikers along Alaska's Russian River may be seeing life-size gummy bears under a new plan to identify problem wildlife.
Officials with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game plan to color problem bears along the river bright shades of blue, yellow, orange and green, using drug-store dye.
"We'll use specific color codes to tell the bears apart and we may do two areas, such as the head and neck and also the rear, so bears can be identified coming and going," said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna, Ala.
Fish and Game will attempt to bleach patches of hair on the bear's body and then brightly color them with dye for easy identification.
The bright colors will allow fishermen, tourists, campers, ferry service employees and others in the area to easily and reliably identify the bears even in low-light conditions.
"We want to start to have a known history for the bears, so that we can track which ones walk away when confronted by people and which ones demonstrate escalating behaviors," Selinger said.
The dye campaign, officials told the Anchorage Daily News, would make sure that bears are not killed needlessly.
"This is their only chance at surviving," Selinger said to the paper.
John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, told the Daily News that coloring the bears may alter their natural behavior.
"Would your interaction with your wife change if you dressed up like a clown?" he told the paper. "Who knows? Maybe it would help."
Selinger said several new techniques will be employed this year, including one that will be challenging for wildlife authorities, given the terrain and high numbers of people who frequent this popular spot.
"We're going to attempt to capture and mark at least four bears that have frequented the area in years past if they show up again," he said.
In addition to the bear identification plan, Selinger said the "Stop, Chop and Throw" campaign will be promoted again this year. This technique is employed as a way of eliminating fish carcasses by having fishermen cut them into small chunks that drift away easier than whole carcasses, and by throwing these chunks into the center of the river, where they are most likely to be swept downstream and into deep water beyond the reach of bears.
To aid fishermen in this effort, Selinger said grinders will be available in the Russian River area for the first time this summer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.