Common Questions and Answers after Attending "Bear School"

June 28, 2021 Posted by: Cara Rohdenburg
A room with benches. Chalkboard drawing of Brooks Camp up front with a TV screen that says 'Brooks Camp Bear Orientation Safety Talk'

Every single person who visits Brooks Camp has to go through “Bear School” (or “Bear Orientation”) each year that they visit. Often, they’ll watch a ten minute video and then have a quick chat with a ranger, or else they’ll have a ten minute talk from the ranger, covering everything the video normally does. I highly recommend checking out our page specifically regarding bear encounters for anyone planning a trip to Katmai. The situation here at Brooks Camp is very unique, so bear safety talks are required for everyone on the ground. Both the video and the ranger talks cover basic safety instructions for crossing paths with bears here at the park, but no ten minute talk can cover every situation, so here are some of our frequently asked questions after Bear School is over: 

Are sunscreen and bug spray okay to carry/wear around the park?
Some rangers practically bathe in both. Others never use either. The fact of the matter is that any scent may be a curiosity to bears, or it may be completely ignored. If it’s not something you feel you need, it’s best to leave it.

Is it okay to leave things on my cabin porch?
No. All items need to be kept within arm’s reach or inside a building at all times. Bears are very curious, and don’t always recognize porches as “off limits,” so items on porches are not secured and may prove tempting to bears.           

Do I need bear spray?
You are allowed to carry bear spray, although you may have trouble getting it to Katmai, as it’s not allowed on large commercial planes. Although the likelihood of encountering a bear in the Brooks Camp Developed Area (which includes the Falls and the Bridge viewing areas, and the trails in between) is incredibly high, the odds of needing to use it here is incredibly low. No visitor has sprayed a bear in this area in years. One of the main intentions of Bear School is to help you avoid or defuse a situation long before bear spray would be necessary.           

Why do you (the rangers) carry bear spray if you’re telling me I don’t need it?
Rangers often have to put themselves at risk in order to do our jobs and keep both visitors and bears as safe as possible. This can involve going into bear-frequented areas alone, moving towards bears, or even encouraging a bear to leave an area, all of which are very dangerous behaviors for us to engage in, even with the most people-habituated bears. Although we try to do those sorts of things as seldom as possible, it is sometimes unavoidable, and so we are far more likely than a visitor to need to spray a bear as a non-lethal safety measure. These are not tame bears, by any stretch. The actions that put us at risk are the very ones we warn against in Bear School.

What do you mean by “habituated”?
The bears around the Brooks Camp Developed area are often described as “habituated” which means that the bears are accustomed to our presence, and show little response when seeing humans on the trails and at the platforms. This in no way means that they are tame or friendly. These are wild animals, they may behave unpredictably, and they can be dangerous. We need to guard against the urge to view them as we would a pet or domesticated animal.

What is the best time for seeing bears?
Impossible to say. Bears, particularly ones with a plentiful food source and unimpeded by people, do their bear things on their own schedule. Just like people, different bears frequent different places at different times of day, and it is not always the same each day.

Why can’t I stand on the walkways on the bridge or the Falls?/Why do I have to stay on the platform areas to take pictures?
The bears are just trying to survive from year to year, and although we want to get close and get those beautiful pictures, we need to make sure we’re limiting our impact on these wild animals as much as possible. The bridge and the Falls walkways both span areas that the bears need to move through in order to get from one food source to another, and although some bears seem to tolerate being watched, it has a visible effect on others, which may inhibit their free movement. We try to gather in predictable places. We use the platforms as gathering spaces, and the walkways as walking spaces so bears can choose where they want to cross, knowing the humans will behave predictably. The elevated walkway over Brooks River is very new, and we’re still working to monitor the effect it is having on the behavior of the bears in the lower river. As one ranger puts it “It’s like the sidewalk outside your house: you’re used to seeing people walking along the sidewalk. It’s uncomfortable if they stop there and stare into your kitchen while you try to eat.”         

Is there a ranger to walk us to the Falls?
There may be a ranger walking that way, and we are happy to have you accompany us, but there is not usually a set schedule for rangers to walk groups to and from the Falls. If you’re nervous about the trek (which is very reasonable and absolutely understandable), feel free to ask. If we’re headed there, or if we know someone else will be soon, we can let you know.

If a bear approaches me and I get off the trail (like I’m taught in Bear School) is it okay to take pictures as it passes?
If you’re looking at a bear through a camera lens, you’re likely to be focused on the picture, and not the interaction. This can mean that you miss important cues from the bear, and that may put both you and the bear into a risky situation. A camera lens can also make it easy to misjudge the distance between you and the bear as it passes. When encountering a bear on the trail, that bear should have your full attention.

I hope this has answered some questions and maybe allayed some fears about seeing bears at Katmai, and we can’t wait to see you here this season for Bear School. If you have questions that we haven’t answered either here or elsewhere on the website, reach out to us at katm_visitor_information@nps.gov.

BrooksCamp, BearSchool, BearSafety



Last updated: June 28, 2021

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 7
1000 Silver Street, Building 603

King Salmon , AK 99613

Phone:

907 246-3305

Contact Us

Stay Connected