The deadline to apply for a chance to view brown bears at McNeil River this year is March 1. Hundreds of people apply each year for one of 185 Guiding Viewing Access permits that give them the chance for a close look at the bears in the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary between June 7 and Aug. 25. What is said to be the largest known gathering of brown bears in the world takes place there each year as the bears congregate to feed on salmon migrating up the river on the Alaska Peninsula.
Hopeful bear watchers apply online or print out application forms at mcneilriver.adfg.alaska.gov. Click on "Permits" and "Viewing Permits." They can also apply by alling 907-267-2253.
There is a nonrefundable application fee of $25 per person. The selection of viewers will be done by lottery. If selected, Alaska residents must pay a permit fee of $150. Nonresidents pay $350.
In addition to the Guiding Viewing Access permits, formerly known as "Regular" permits, 57 Camp-Standby Viewing Access permits are also drawn in the lottery. They allow viewers to stay in the sanctuary campground and visit a nearby beach area where bears also assemble. Possessors of standby passes are eligible to fill vacancies that may occur if a Guiding Viewing Access permit holder fails to use his or her permit.
In addition to the $25 application fee, there is a fee of $75 for the standby pass for Alaskans, $175 for non-Alaska residents.
All passes are issued for four-day periods. Applicants can select first and second choices for the time block during which they want to visit.
Applications must be submitted by midnight on March 1. Mailed applications must be received b y the Department of Fish and Game by close of business on that day.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.