See Inside August 2006

The Fish and the Forest

Salmon-catching bears fertilize forests with the partially eaten carcasses of their favorite food

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Few wildlife spectacles in North America compare to the sight of bears gathered along streams and rivers to scoop up spawning salmon. The hungry bears have long attracted attention, particularly from fishery managers, who in the late 1940s proposed their broadscale culling in Alaska to reduce the "economic damage" the predators might be wreaking on salmon populations. In fact, several sensationalized reports implied that Alaska might fall into "financial and social collapse" unless the bear populations were controlled.

Fortunately, common sense came to the rescue, and the bear cull never came about. Scientific interest in the interaction between bears and salmon died down. Recently, however, researchers have discovered a new facet of this relationship, and the finding has radically changed notions about how the salmon, the streams and the bordering woodlands affect one another--and, naturally, notions about how they should be managed.

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