An Anomalous August

August 18, 2018 Posted by: Russ Taylor

A bear catches a salmon while standing on the lip of a waterfall
A bear catching a fish on the lip of Brooks Falls  NPS Photo/Maurice Whalen

After a busy July of bears and people, August is normally a month where we catch our breath, let the adrenaline that coursed through our veins settle a bit, and enjoy the calm before the bears return in September.

This August has been different. Salmon are still leaping the falls, rangers and visitors still have to back up at “the corner” to maintain a 50 yard distance from bears, and several of the larger bears, which normally feed elsewhere in August, are still here. What are the variables that have made this 2018 season so different?

Bears in the water near Brooks Falls
Bears fishing at Brooks Falls. While this would be a common scene in July, it's an unprecedented scene for an August afternoon. NPS Photo/Russ Taylor

An ecosystem that depends on the salmon run will benefit from the historically strong run this season. The salmon not only feed the bears, wolves, eagles and more, but provide vital nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which becomes available to streamside vegetation.

The last report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on August 2, 2018 showed a total run in the Bristol Bay of 62,434,028 salmon. About 2.22 million of those would have entered the Naknek River watershed and it’s estimated that 20% of those would have entered the Brooks River. As a part of that, the Silver Salmon are also running strong. Fish continue to leap the falls and bears are fishing the lip of the falls in a manner rarely seen this far into the summer.

While the lower river is often quiet in August, this year it has remained active, and rangers and visitors have had some July-like experiences in needing to retreat in order to let bears pass by.

Two rangers speak with two visitors while waiting for bears to be more than 50 yards from a bridge
Park rangers speak with visitors while all wait for bears to be more than 50 yards from a footbridge. NPS Photo/Russ Taylor

August is usually a time for sub-adult bears to enjoy space at the falls, practicing finding salmon without the large males around. This year has been decidedly different in that regard as well. While the mother bears with cubs have moved to other areas as in most years, some of the large males have decided to stay. While there is still some room for the sub-adults to find good fishing spots, the big males still take several of the prime locations.

 Three large adult male bears at Brooks Fall in August 2018Adult male bears at Brooks Falls in August 2018  NPS Photo/Russ Taylor

All of this abundance has been good for the bears and that is reflected in the level of play among the younger bears. Since they are becoming proverbially “fat and happy,” this leads to having the energy to engage playfully with other bears.

Two subadult brown bears playing in waterTwo subadult brown bears at play NPS Photo/Russ Taylor

While in some years just surviving can be a challenge, 2018 has been a year in which the salmon run has been so strong that these bears can thrive.


Last updated: August 18, 2018

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