Sullivan Honors Julia Bevins as “Alaskan of the Week”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Julia Bevins, of Homer, who founded the world-renowned International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA). Julia founded the IBA with the life insurance funds received from the passing of her late husband, John, whose plane was lost in 1990 on a polar bear research trip with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The IBA has grown to 550 members from more than 60 countries, and has funded bear researchers across the globe. Senator Sullivan recognized Bevins as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”


Mr. SULLIVAN. Mr. President, it is Thursday, and it is a time that I get to come to the Senate floor and recognize an Alaskan who has made a difference in my State and, in this case, someone who has made a difference literally around the globe. This is someone I refer to as the ``Alaskan of the Week.” I love to do it. I know some of our reporters listening enjoy this.

Kristin, I know you love bears, so this week you will be particularly interested.

Before I get into the bears and the story and the individual we are going to honor today, let me tell you a little bit about what is happening in Alaska. Like other places in our great Nation, our State is certainly facing challenges--like the rest of America, one foot in our economic recovery, one foot still in this pandemic. It is a challenging time, but Alaskans are tough--certainly some of the toughest people in America. As I say, tough times don't last, but tough people do. We will get through this as a State, as a nation, and I think that certainly applies to Alaska.

It is summer. The Sun is high. The salmon are running thick. The bears are digging them out of the streams. By the way, a word to the wise: When you have salmon, you almost always have bears, so be careful. 

In Alaska, we love our bears and so does our Alaskan of the Week, Julia Bevins, who recently moved from Anchorage to the gorgeous town of Homer--Homer, AK. For those of you who have been there, you know what I am talking about. For those who haven't, you have to get out to Homer. It is the halibut capital of the world but a magnificently beautiful place. Just the drive from Anchorage to Homer is breathtaking. There is no other place in the world like it. 

It is from Homer that Julia keeps going the now world-renowned foundation, the International Association for Bear Research and Management, or IBA, that she founded in memory of her late husband, wildlife biologist John Bevins.

Why the foundation and why the bears? Let me tell you about a tragic and beautiful story relating to Julia and her late husband John.

Julia was born in New Mexico and raised in Australia. She has a degree in veterinary science from the University of Queensland in Australia. She came to Alaska in 1984 to get a Ph.D. in wildlife biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her focus was on reindeer herd health and disease control.

She met John in 1985, and the two were married in Fairbanks in July, 1990. They were both in love with Alaska and with each other. It was the love of a lifetime, Julia said.

Indeed, it was a great match. She was a veterinarian focusing on reindeer. He was a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working on polar bear research--the best wildlife biologist job you could ever have, polar bear research in Alaska.

Then, unfortunately, tragedy struck. Three months after they were married, on October 11, John and his colleague George Menkens, and their pilot, Clifford Minch, got into a twin engine aero commander at Deadhorse. They were headed north to do a low-altitude aerial survey of female polar bears with cubs who prowl the ice hunting for food.

They were believed to have traveled as far as 250 miles northwest of Barrow, now known as Utqiaqvik--the northernmost point of North America. That is where people believe the plane they were traveling on vanished. No one really knows where.

The search, at least initially, was extensive. In the first few days, members of the U.S. Coast Guard flew C-130s, as well as civilians in their aircraft, and spanned the area, flying hundreds of thousands of square miles looking for any signs of the aircraft. After a week, they decided the search was over. Julia was desperate. She knew that her late husband and the two others had 2 weeks of provisions and adequate survival gear. What if they had survived? What if they were on an ice floe? What if they were still out there and the searchers happened to miss them in that huge expanse?

This idea was overwhelming to her. She called everyone she knew to help in keeping the search going. And eventually, like so many Alaskans did, she called the late great Senator Ted Stevens, who--as he was known to do--got to work for his fellow Alaskan. 

“He did an amazing thing,” Julia said. He arranged for the Canadians to send a military radar plane that could detect metal above sea ice--anything bigger than a 4-foot square. The plane could cover an area the size of Manitoba in 1 night. So they did it.

It was that search that finally gave Julia peace of mind. She said: After the military plane came and left, I felt like we had done everything we could have possibly done to find my husband. I knew my husband was gone, and there was a peace of mind going forward 

Senator Ted Stevens gave me a life, she said. He gave me a life free from self-recrimination and free of doubt.

She also credits Senator Stevens for giving her enough peace to work to honor her husband's memory in a way that was unique to him. She took the proceeds she received from the insurance, and she began the bear foundation. It started off small in 1993. The first year it was up and running, the foundation gave away $5,000 in grant money. That money, which was invested well, began to grow and so did the amount of the grants awarded.

One year, the foundation was able to give out $50,000 in grant money. The average size of individual grants is now $8,000. All told, they are able to give about $100,000 a year, including donations that they get from individuals and organizations. 

It is not just about the money that has grown, so has the prestige of this foundation. The IBA now has 550 members from over 60 countries. Because of Julia Bevins, in Homer, AK, all across the globe, researchers are working with other biologists. They are tracking bears. They are assisting in management of these great animals. They are writing papers and sharing information. They are doing what they love for the ecosystem. Julia said: 

When people love bears, they love them with their whole heart and soul. It's a very profound thing.

Julia talked about how the IBA funded a researcher to search for a rumored small brown bear--the Gobi bear--in Mongolia, the only bear to exist in this extreme desert habitat. There had been sightings throughout the year, but no scientist had ever been able to prove its existence.

The IBA funded a scientist, Harry Reynolds--an Alaska from Fairbanks--to travel through Mongolia and find the Gobi bear. And he found them. Now the Mongolian Government is committed to its protection. 

Scientists funded by the IBA worked with other scientists in Iran to document not only bears, but they were able to find 16 new wildlife species. From the dangerous border between India and Pakistan to the equally dangerous forests of Colombia, bear researchers, helped with IBA money, are working with local citizens and governments and other scientists, forming true alliances to help save bears.

Science ties the world together, Julia said. When you have a collective of like-minded people working for a common goal, all things are possible.

When you have someone with a mission like Julia Bevins, all things are possible too. 

Thank you to Julia for your commitment to this great cause, for your work in helping keep John's memory alive, and for your amazing work on bears in Alaska and bears in the world. Congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.

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