Coulda Woulda Shoulda: a polar bear pelt

At today’s Rotary club luncheon in Palmer, the speaker was from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, to educate us about the recent decision to list the polar bear on the Endangered Species Act. That federal decision is one that most Alaskans disagree with, feeling strongly the bear is not only surviving but is thriving in the vast areas it has as habitat on the north and west coasts of Alaska.

The speaker, a biologist for the university, has researched and studied polar bears for decades. His talk centered largely on the politics of ESA’s (animals listed on the Endangered Species Act) and particulars such as how in one area a wolf could be considered endangered while in a different environment it could be overpopulated and hunted to prevent it threatening other species. So, while it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, it was still very interesting to learn about the issue.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association has recently started sending out newsletters of which I got one by mail. I don’t know much about that industry, except that I’ve really enjoyed learning about it through thier newsletters. For instance, I didn’t know that most of the major oil producers now use military-style night-vision goggles and scopes when they are approaching where to do development in an area they lease. This is because most research is done in the winter when ice roads can be put in. The heat-seeking visioning tools help them to identify where mother polar bears are denned in with cubs, because they show up as a warmer spot on what to our naked eyes would like a vast stretch of indistinguishable snow drifts, The technology helps the oil and gas folks stay clear of denned polar bears (and not run through their dens unintentionally), which prevents cub and mother mortality in an easy way.

The Rotary speaker was invited by a member of our club, Eddie Grasser. Eddie’s a quiet guy who I suspect is more politically connected than anyone might imagine of this fellow in jeans and a denim shirt. I’m not entirely sure what Eddie’s up to currently, but he has been a big game guide in his past and is an excellent pilot. He is or was the head of NRA in Alaska and serves as a lobbyist for hunters in Washington, D.C. He does a lot of fundraising for education around hunting, to teach kids about the outdoors and to make people aware of subsistence rights and laws. He mentioned he’d been too busy lately with fundraisers. Someone else in the club asked how much he’d raised in the past six months. He said just about a half million dollars. He’s a very humble, down to earth guy who is right there to help when needed. Two years ago, our Rotary president was doing an ultra-sport race thing which took him overland through the Talkeenta mountains where you travel as quickly as possible from one point to the other carrying a small inflatable personal raft or whatever ropes or anything else you think you’ll need to cross rivers, get up and down mountains, etc. besides basically running the miles of the course for a day or longer. The racing fellow had been swept under and pinned underwater between two boulders while rafting a section of a fast river. It was a very close brush with death, but he managed to get himself out. He was pretty injured, so he used his sat phone to reach the one guy he knew would help him–He called Eddie to fly in and get him, which Eddie did right away.

So, anyway, I overheard a snippet of conversation between Eddie and the Rotary speaker from UAF. They were saying that nowadays a polar bear hide goes for just about $20,000, since they’ve been illegal to hunt since ? the 1970’s ? The existing older hides have risen a lot in value. Eddie said anything over a 10-footer is worth upwards of $30,000, which meant he had a whole lot of value hanging on his walls at home. At this moment, I was so kicking myself. Seven years ago when I was planning to move to Alaska from my home in Minneapolis to start my B&B, I just so happened to see a classified ad in the Star Tribune for a legal, older polar bear hide that someone had for sale. It was listed for $2000. At the time, I decided to spend that money on things like sheets and towels and thought, wow, that would be so cool to have at my B&B, but I shouldn’t spend money on that right now… Coulda Woulda Shoulda!

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