Bears. Salmon. Volcanoes. Wilderness. Culture. These are the terranes of Katmai. Each is distinct, but in combination these features create a place like no other. Read about the uniqueness of Katmai in this blog.
Nine bears can be seen in this photo taken from the Lower River Wildlife Viewing Platform in early July 2010. What were they doing there and what were the circumstances that brought them together? This photo tells a story of hunger, instinct, and survival.
November 23, 2015Posted by: Michael Fitz and Jeanne Roy
Bearcam 2015 ended with startling deaths that highlighted the harsh realities of a bear’s world. The death of two bears, a young cub and an adult male, offered the opportunity to learn from events that people rarely have the opportunity to observe and study.
From 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. June 15 to August 15, the platforms and boardwalks at Brooks Falls are closed. In order to better understand how bears use the falls when no humans are present, I assisted Brooks Camp’s bear monitor, Leslie Skora, with an overnight monitoring session from 10:30 p.m. - 12:30 a.m., then again from 4 to 7 a.m.
Even as a resident of Anchorage, I had never heard of Katmai or Brooks Camp before coming to King Salmon. I was unaware of the fact that Katmai had volcanoes and that invasive plants are affecting the national parks and spreading faster than a bear can run. Before arriving in King Salmon, I was a little nervous about going to Brooks camp because even though I am more apprehensive of moose than bears, what could be more nerve-racking than being surrounded by the world’s largest land predators?
What should you expect to see at Brooks River and on bearcam over the next month? While other parts of Katmai fill with bears in August, it’s the opposite at Brooks Camp. August brings bears more opportunities to find food away from Brooks River.
We are taught as children to ask questions to understand the world around us. When people leave their comfort zones and go on vacation they tend to ask more questions. The rangers at Katmai, and at Brooks Camp in particular, spend a lot of time answering questions.
Near Brooks Falls, a complex of elevated boardwalks and wildlife viewing platforms stand in the forest. Viewed from a distance, or even from the perspective of a person standing on the walkway, it may seem that the walkways eliminate our impact on bears. While the boardwalks and viewing platforms have substantially reduced bear-human conflicts near the falls, they haven’t eliminated them. Sometimes a bit of restraint and sacrifice, on our part, are needed to help bears.
Most of the time when a volcano erupts, it does not send avalanches of fifteen-hundred degree surging volcanic rock across the landscape, completely burying whatever might lay in its path. Nor does a volcano typically send a column of ash twenty miles into the sky, turning day to night and blanketing a hundred plus mile radius of land in a foot or two of ash. Katmai's volatile young volcano, Novarupta, erupted in such a manner in 1912, and it left behind compelling proof of its explosive might.
July 1, 2014 was a stressful day for rangers and one yearling cub at Brooks Camp. Around 10 AM bear #402 became separated from her cub near the mouth of the Brooks River. The yearling walked and ran to Brooks Lodge and climbed a tree just outside of the lodge. The cub was not reunited with its mother until 8:15 PM. This situation highlights the challenges of managing people and bears at Brooks Camp.
Explorers of Katmai Country: In this series of posts, we’ll highlight a different person tied to Katmai’s varied history.
Much of what we know today about the early American period of Alaska is due to the pioneering efforts of one man, Ivan Petroff. He is largely responsible for compiling the US Census for this territory twice, in 1880 and 1890, as well as exploring and publishing on many areas along the Alaskan coast. In many ways this Russian transplant was the leading American authority on Alaska of his day, a prominent position he held until he was discredited in a most public and humiliating manor during tense international negotiations. Does that not read like a high powered plot in a John Gisham inspired best seller?
In May 2014 my wife, Ann, and I were vacationing on the southern Oregon coast. Upon checking my email while watching Pacific waves crash against sea stacks I saw an unexpected message from my former Katmai National Park supervisor. Curious, I thought. I have not heard from him in some time. “I know this is a long shot, but would you consider returning to Brooks Camp this summer?” he wrote.
Pop! When I saw the tranquilizing dart strike 854 Divot, I knew that there was much work to do and we needed to be quick about it, but I couldn’t help but feel a sigh of relief. “This might just work,” I thought, “We’ll be able to remove the snare.” Frankly, I never thought we’d get the opportunity.
In the Brooks Camp Visitor Center, a bear pelt hangs in the rafters. This pelt belonged to a young female bear nicknamed Sister. After obtaining food and equipment from people, Sister became the last bear destroyed at Brooks Camp. This is a story of mistakes and loss. It teaches a lesson that we should never learn the hard way again.
Every once and a while, you may see people on the floating bridge while a bear is nearby. The people in the photo above were not behaving appropriately for the unique bear viewing opportunities at Brooks Camp. The wildness of the bears and the wonderful experiences for people at Brooks Camp is dependent on everyone giving bears space.