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North to Alaska

Posted by | July 21, 2008

Following a meeting in Fairbanks, Pam and I travelled to Anchorage, Alaska to meet with Cougar alumni and give them an update on the College. The alumni event was hosted by Leo and Jeanne Bustad. Leo is the son of Leo K. Bustad, dean emeritus of the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.

I talked about goings on within WSU and CAHNRS, and more specifically, plans for a wildlife center and the arboretum. Our alumni are very excited about all of the developments at WSU, and in particular, the new energy President Floyd has brought to the campus.

A bearAlthough my update was received with interest, the highlight of the meeting was a talk by Larry Van Daele. Larry is a wildlife biologist with Alaska Fish and Game. You may have seen him in Werner Herzog’s film, Grizzly Man, about Timothy Treadwell, or in the made-for-TV movie, The Harriman Alaska Expedition Retraced.

Larry is a colleague of and collaborator with Charlie Robbins, the director of our Bear Research, Education and Conservation Center. He lives on Kodiak Island close to the large bear population there. He manages bear populations for the entire state. Larry wowed us by pointing out that bears on Kodiak, where their principal diet is salmon, can weigh up to 1350 pounds. That’s a big bear! Contrast this with conditions in Denali National Park (home of Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America), where bears have to stay trim and nimble to run down caribou. The typical weight of a Denali bear is just 400 pounds.

Two bearsLarry spoke glowingly about WSU’s world-class Bear Center. WSU, he said, is the ideal place to build an international wildlife center for research, education and outreach, and urged alumni to consider this great opportunity to support the project.

When Larry first heard about the Bear Center some years ago, he admitted he was skeptical. He didn’t think bears should be kept in captivity and was concerned that WSU’s project was little more than a zoo. But when he visited the Bear Center, he did a 180, and immediately became a collaborator and supporter of the Center.

Because Alaska is not investing in bear research, Larry sees WSU as a principal partner in research that, through the work of scientists like veterinarian cardiologist Lynne Nelson, contributes to animal and human health worldwide.

I’m encouraged by the emotional connection everybody who encounters the bears feels, even when it’s at a distance and through the medium of Web-based video. That’s the first step toward raising the funds to build a world-class wildlife center.

As ever, Go Cougs! And go bears, too!