Isolated Paradise:
An Administrative History of the Katmai and Aniakchak National Park Units
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Chapter 9:
Bear Management

What may be the world's largest protected population of Alaskan brown bears occupies Katmai National Park and Preserve. Classified as Ursus arctos, the bears number between 2,000 and 3,000 on the Alaska Peninsula. Approximately ten percent of this population lives in the national park and preserve. [1] Their seasonal life cycle sometimes brings them into contact with humans attempting to use the same natural resources. Large, strong, and fast, the bears are curious and often hungry. Because of these traits, they can be a safety hazard whenever humans invade their habitat.

Each year the bears emerge from hibernation in April or May. They move from their denning sites down to the coastal plain where they feed on caribou, moose, clams, the previous year's berries, and the carcasses of sea mammals that have washed ashore. In late June or early July the bears leave the areas to which they have dispersed and begin to concentrate along salmon-spawning streams. They remain there until August when they move to areas where berries can be obtained. A few streams support a salmon run in late September or October, and some bears will congregate along their banks at that time. Then, in a period between mid-November and mid-December, the bears re-enter their dens where they will remain until the following spring. [2]

The bears' rounds lead them into areas where humans are active. From prehistoric times humans in the Katmai area, like the bears, depended upon the annual salmon runs for food. More recently, those subsistence fishers have been largely replaced by recreational and commercial fishers, but the problem caused by bears and people sharing the same territory has continued.

Humans have also hunted the Katmai bears, both in the past and in the present, for their meat and skins, to protect subsistence campsites, and as trophies. While this did not seriously affect the bear population in the time of primitive weapons, firearms and aircraft have become increasingly serious threats to the bears.

Bears Become a Significant Management Element

"Bear management" is a relatively recent phenomenon at Katmai. Archeological evidence indicates that bears and people were present in the Katmai area for thousands of years prior to the 1912 volcanic disturbance that led to scientific interest in the area. That interest led to designation of a portion of the Katmai area, the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, as a national monument. [3] The proclamation which created the monument did not mention bears or any other biotic elements.

It was not until 1930, when Robert Griggs reported on yet another National Geographic Society-sponsored expedition, that bears and other wildlife species were recognized as important area resources. Griggs's discoveries were thrust into the middle of a long-running national debate on how Alaska's brown bears might be preserved. As Chapter 3 points out, the National Park Service found that the bureaucratic cost of expanding an existing national monument would be less than that of creating a new one. Wildlife advocates, during this period, had urged the NPS to establish a new monument, either on Admiralty Island or Chichagof Island, whose primary purpose would be bear preservation. Instead, the bureau found it more expedient to expand Katmai and Glacier Bay national monuments, even though their bear populations were less known than in southeastern Alaska. In April 1931, Katmai National Monument was more than doubled in size "for the purpose of including within said monument additional lands ... for the protection of the brown bear, moose, and other wild animals." [4]

Gradually increasing awareness followed on the part of the National Park Service. The agency knew that it was responsible for stopping the illegal hunting of bears and other animals within the expanded monument boundaries. Without funding, however, it was powerless. As noted in Chapter 3, several trappers spent the winter months in the expanded park; the activities of a few of them predated the 1931 expansion. The trappers sought small game as a way to generate income. For their subsistence needs, however, they hunted large animals and fished as well.

The need to protect Katmai's wildlife populations was one of the principal reasons the first NPS staff person (a ranger from Mount McKinley National Park) visited the monu- ment in 1937. Protection efforts prior to that visit were limited to occasional actions on the part of Alaska Game Commission officers, whose principal responsibilities lay elsewhere. Most concern expressed at this time was about illegal trapping, rather than about bear hunting or fishing. [5] However, some commercial fishermen shot bears, as a Park Service biologist put it, "in vindictive retaliation for their feeding on salmon." [6]

After World War II, the NPS renewed its interest in Katmai National Monument. Anx-ious to know more about the resources of the monument, in 1947 the NPS appointed Clarence J. Albrecht as a collaborator without compensation. He was authorized to collect natural history materials, including not more than two "Kodiak" bears. Albrecht was sponsored by the Chicago Museum of Natural History. [7] During his hunt he killed a sow and two cubs, and his permit was amended after the fact to accommodate this. [8]

Eager to protect the monument's wildlife, in 1948 the NPS deputized as a park ranger Carlos M. Carson, the Alaska Game Commission officer at Dillingham. The appoint-ment was made to encourage enforcement activities within monument boundaries. [9] The NPS also sent copies of its rules and regulations and maps of Katmai National Monument to the F&WS to encourage that agency to help with wildlife protection. [10]

It was only after administrative facilities and fishing camps were established within monument boundaries that bear management was seriously addressed.

Early Bear Management Policies

While statistical data are not available, anecdotal records indicate that the Brooks Camp bear population was at an ebb in the early 1950s. [11] The first ranger stationed at Brooks Camp, Willie Nancarrow, noted that bears were plentiful along Savonoski River but not at Brooks Camp; to be safe, however, he constructed a cache adjacent to the residence he built that summer. [12] In July 1951, the Katmai ranger took a reporter to Savonoski River to see bears fishing, perhaps because they were not in evidence at Brooks Camp. [13]

In 1952, after weighing the matter, NPS officials decided that photographers seeking to take pictures of bears would not need to be accompanied by licensed guides. [14] This is the first recorded decision on bear-people management policy at Katmai National Monument.

By 1953, the concessioner was noting bear problems. Bears severely damaged Coville (later Grosvenor) Camp that spring. They destroyed stored food, several mattresses, sleeping bags, a heating stove, a radio transmitter, and a radio receiver. The Coville cabin suffered smashed windows, a torn off door, and ripped tent walls. [15]

When the concessioner asked what it should do about the raiding bears, Lawrence C. Merriam, the director of Region Four, replied that "a key factor in preventing bear depredations lies in making sure that food, garbage, and odors related thereto do not reach the animals." The Service recommended prompt disposal of garbage by burning, not burying, and by using elevated food caches. The concessioner was also advised that caches would be necessary where supplies were left during the winter. In the view of the NPS, the Katmai bear situation was

fundamentally no different from the one [which] existed at Mt. McKinley National Park for several years, except that the Katmai problem is in an earlier and less complicated stage. For this reason it should be less difficult at Katmai to avoid the spoiling of additional bears through contact with human food supplies. [16]

This early decision, that Katmai bears should not be habituated to garbage, reflected a gradual shift in Park Service policies. At other park units, bears fed at garbage dumps and were considered tourist attractions. Yosemite National Park was relatively progressive in its approach; the dumps were closed in 1940 and "problem bears" were removed to remote portions of the park. At Yellowstone, however, a park garbage dump was a designated tourist attraction until the early 1940s, and bears fed on park garbage until the summer of 1969. Not until the late 1960s--shortly after bears, lured by garbage, killed two Glacier National Park campers in one night during the summer of 1967--did the NPS decide, on a servicewide basis, that garbage-habituation of bears was unnatural and dangerous to people. [17] In policy, if not in practice, NPS staff in the San Francisco office led the way in adopting the far-sighted philosophy of separating people from bears.

Work on the Katmai Project, the two-year scientific investigation begun in 1953, resulted in additional recommendations for bear-people management in Katmai National Monument. The project's interim report recommended protection of Katmai's bears, as well as its wolves and wolverines. The report also noted that

the bears are generally not dangerous when unmolested. It is therefore recommended that guns should be prohibited in the Monument except for use by a ranger in eliminating certain individual bears which at times may become a threat in the vicinity of populated camps. [18]

Victor H. Cahalane, NPS's chief biologist, elaborated on desirable bear management policy at Katmai in his 1959 book, A Biological Survey of Katmai National Monument. Recognizing that most Katmai visitors were fishermen, Cahalane noted that

In a sanctuary such as Katmai National Monument, the brown bear comes into direct contact with man chiefly in three types of localities: 1) on salmon streams, 2) on trails, and 3) at camps. (As hunting is not permitted in the Monument, relatively few contacts are made outside these three types of places.)

Cahalane went on to write that the NPS was obligated to allow the bears of Katmai

to pursue their normal mode of existence, as far as possible, despite use of the area by visitors. Means for insuring the latter's safety must avoid disruption of the bear population, for these animals constitute a major asset and attraction. [19]

In his study of Katmai's wildlife, Cahalane had uncovered only two instances up to 1954 of bear raids on camps with humans present. One was at Fure's cabin, in the Bay of Islands area of Naknek Lake, and the other was at a Fish and Wildlife Service camp near Kaguyak, on Shelikof Strait. [20] Then, in the fall of 1961, another incident took place when Northern Consolidated Airlines' Grosvenor Camp was raided a second time. Ranger-in-Charge Robert Peterson had to return from McKinley to Katmai in order to investigate the break-in and the bear's subsequent shooting by the concessions staff. Peterson reported that the damage report was accurate and that the bear, although shot, was "recovering satisfactorily." [21]

During the late 1950s, the new State of Alaska attempted to drastically alter bear management. The Alaska Fish and Game Commission, shortly after statehood, announced in its hunting regulations that both Katmai and Glacier Bay national monuments would be open to public hunting. It took that action based on the fact that the NPS had proprietary (not exclusive) legal jurisdiction. The NPS, not surprisingly, objected to the state's position, noting that the U.S. constitution's supremacy clause overruled any states' rights in the matter, and within a year the Commission had withdrawn its legal challenge. Hunting was henceforth prohibited in both monuments. During the interim period, the state had informed the guiding community of the change, and independent hunters knew about it upon reading the hunting regulations. The extent of hunting in the two monuments during the short-lived "open season" is not known. [22]

Problems with Brooks Camp Garbage

During the 1950s, relatively few bears were seen at Brooks Camp, and they were not considered to be a problem. The camp diary, which was kept each year from 1953 to 1957, notes that bears were a relatively rare sight. Bears or bear tracks were usually seen once or twice a year; in 1954, however, they may have been entirely absent. A bear who wandered into the area in early October 1955 was shot along the Naknek Lake shoreline. NCA personnel did not know who was responsible for the shooting, and it was not connected with any damage to the camp. [23]

One reason that the Brooks Camp bear population stayed low was that the camp had a relatively effective way to get rid of its garbage. (This system may have been instituted by NCA personnel, or it may have been suggested, as noted above, by Regional Director Lawrence Merriam, who issued guidelines for garbage disposal after the 1953 Coville Camp break-in.) Cans and bottles were routinely sunk in Naknek Lake or were buried at the edge of camp (at or near the site of the auditorium, which was built in 1974), and most other materials were burned. [24]

In the early 1960s, however, the camp changed its methods of garbage disposal. Material waste and garbage were sent by barge to one of several open dumps on the shore of Naknek Lake. These dumps were southeast of the camp, between the Beaver Pond and Iliuk Moraine. Bears eventually discovered their whereabouts, and because bears at that time were relatively uncommon at Brooks Camp, the NCA camp manager often took guests to the dump to watch bears. By 1965, however, the NCA employees who were assigned to haul the garbage complained because bears were waiting for them when they arrived at the dump. Their safety, as a result, was being threatened. The situation became so serious that an NPS planner, who visited in 1964, concluded that "the brown bear problem is all but insoluble." [25]

Darrell Coe, the Katmai Ranger-in-Charge at the time, spoke to the camp manager about the situation and tried to encourage the concessioner not to exploit the bears. Coe also tried to discourage the bears from feeding at the dump by surrounding it with an electric fence. Neither remedy was entirely successful. The bears did not find the electric fence to be a serious obstacle, and Coe noted that one of the bears in question might have to be shot. [26]

Paul J. F. Schumacher, the Region Four Archeologist who visited Brooks Camp in 1965, partially solved the problem encountered on the garbage runs. He suggested to the concessioner employees that they vary the times of their garbage runs. The employees reported to Schumacher that his solution had worked--that is, the bears did not wait for the boat--for the two days Schumacher remained at Katmai. [27] But the major problem, on how to keep the bears away from the garbage, remained unsolved.

By June 1966, Coe had become sufficiently worried about the increasing presence of bears that he advised his boss, the Superintendent at Mount McKinley National Park, that it was time for a consistent policy on bear-human relations. [28]

In the meantime, Coe attempted to solve the problem as best he could. That summer he closed and covered the dump adjacent to Naknek Lake and opened a new dump two miles south of Brooks Camp, on the jeep trail to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. [29] The new dump was relatively inaccessible; using it required NCA and NPS personnel to ferry the garbage across Brooks River, then truck it out to the dump. In an effort to keep the bears away, an NPS bulldozer covered the garbage with earth once each week, then leveled the landfill. An electrified cyclone fence was later installed to surround the landfill. But to lighten the load taken out to the Valley Road dump, the NPS installed several burn barrels at Brooks Camp. The bears, not surprisingly, were attracted to the burn barrels, and the camp began to attract its first significant bear populations. [30]

That same summer, a brown bear injured a sleeping camper at the Brooks River campground. On July 21, 1966, John W. Huckabee of Temple, Texas, was the victim. Huckabee had caught, cooked, and eaten a fish, then failed to clean up his camp site. He went to bed with his unwashed frying pan lying nearby. A bear attracted by the odors ransacked the site and bit Huckabee, who was in his sleeping bag, in the buttocks and thigh. The bear dragged a yelling and thrashing Huckabee about ten feet before another camper arrived to scare the bear off. An Air Force helicopter called in from King Salmon evacuated Huckabee to the Dillingham hospital. [31]

Later that summer, Coe reported that a bear had been making repeated raids on the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries camp. (The bear may have been the same one who had injured Huckabee in July.) By the end of October, Coe had found it necessary to "remove" the offending bear by shooting it. [32]

Katmai's program of trapping and transplanting bears was the result of a sophisticated bear trap on skids that Coe and Maintenance Foreman Bill Ross Jefford built at King Salmon in early 1967. The trap's door was raised by a small motor after a bear entered the trap. Once the bear was safely within, the trap and bear could be barged across Naknek Lake where the bear could be released at a point several days overland travel from Brooks Camp. Later, the Air Force at King Salmon occasionally volunteered its helicopters to transport problem bears. [33]

Katmai Bear Research, 1967-1969

Coe also used the early months of 1967 to make initial contact with Professor Frederick C. Dean, head of the University of Alaska Wildlife Management Department, about studying Katmai's bears. Coe, Alaska Field Office research biologist Richard G. Prasil, and Dean conducted preliminary discussions in February at Fairbanks. Then the NPS issued a purchase order for $1,400 for a survey of brown bear distribution and human-bear problems at Katmai. [34]

Dean began his work at Katmai in June. [35] A month later, the nature of the problem became more personal when a bear shredded his tent and sleeping bag in the Brooks Camp campground. A report at the time noted, "Luckily, Dr. Dean was not in either at the time of the depredation." [36] Dean and his wife spent the rest of their visit in Coe's cabin. [37]

During his time at Katmai in 1967 (he made trips in June, July, and September), Dean participated in trapping and transplanting a bear from Brooks Camp, flew over much of the monument, and closely examined bear-human interaction in the Brooks Camp area. Dean did many of the things typical visitors to the monument did. While canoeing, fishing, and hiking, he was better able to understand how the visitors' activities might bring them into contact with the bears. [38]

Pleased with Dean's preliminary work, which was submitted at the end of the 1967 season, the Alaska Field Office of the NPS sought $10,000 for further study. This was to "determine bear toleration of human infringement of their territory;" that is, to find out what caused bears to attack humans who were not interfering with the bears' normal activities. [39] The study proposal was funded, and Dean spent the next two years researching the topic.

In the meantime, bear problems worsened. Tom Atwood, who replaced Coe after the 1967 season, found a continuation of bear problems at Katmai the following spring, and telephoned his concerns to the Western Regional Office on July 16, 1968. According to Atwood, seven bears regularly wandered through Brooks Camp and 20 were in the general vicinity of the fishing camp. The regional director replied to Atwood,

As you state, it is difficult to imagine that we could not expect bear troubles there since the National Park Service and concessionaire buildings as well as the campground have been placed within the bears' natural fishing grounds at Brooks River.

The regional office went on to advise he that he should attempt to relocate troublesome bears. He specifically suggested that he contact the Alaska Department of Fish and Game about transplanting the bears to another part of the state. Atwood was further advised that a clean camp was important to bear safety. The regional office sent bear-proof garbage cans to assist with this. Atwood was to shoot bears only under specific emergency conditions where human safety was immediately involved. In addition to providing this guidance, the regional office noted that the monument needed a long range bear management plan. Such a plan, which Darrell Coe had discussed in 1966, would spell out specific management needs and control measures proposed for bear management. [40]

Following the region's advice, Atwood anesthetized four young bears that frequently wandered through Brooks Camp. Three were relocated, probably by barge. The fourth drugged bear wandered off before it could be captured, and it drowned in Brooks River. [41] Because electric fences around temporary dumps within Brooks Camp did not deter bears, arrangements were made for Brooks Camp residents to keep their garbage indoors until it could be removed to the dumps on the road to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The fish cleaning station, a screened shed, was treated with Pine-Sol or a similar solution. [42]

During the 1966 through 1968 seasons, the Park Service and the concessioner grew increasingly antagonistic on how to manage Brooks Camp's bear population. The Service told the concessioner that the way to avoid bear problems was to keep all food indoors until it could be hauled to the dump along the valley road. The concessioner, however, paid scant attention to the plan and took the attitude that it was the Park Service's responsibility to keep the bears away from the buildings, if necessary by relocating them. [43]

When Gil Blinn arrived at Katmai in September of 1969 to succeed Tom Atwood, he found that the bear safety measures implemented in 1968 had not lasted. The concessioner was throwing garbage out the back door of the kitchen into a garbage can and leaving it there overnight. The fish cleaning shed, a frame structure with window screening around it, was cleaned about twice a week. Between cleanings, fish entrails sat in a wooden bucket on the floor of the building. Although the shed was surrounded by an electric fence, the bears quickly learned to break down the fence by felling a tree across it. [44]

Blinn had been hired, in large part, to solve the Brooks Camp bear problem. Fortu-nately, he was soon given the wherewithal to do so. Professor Dean, the University of Alaska biologist, delivered the final report on his two-year study in the fall of 1969. In it he analyzed the nature of the Katmai bears and the humans who visited them. He also noted several policy questions that the NPS had to face. Among these was the goal of preserving the monument's wilderness characteristics. One problem to be addressed was how to permit human visitation and provide concession services without destroying the qualities that attracted visitation. A second policy issue was: who would control development at Brooks Camp, the NPS or the concessioner? In Dean's view, expressed in 1967, "the concessionaire appeared to have the upper hand and was doing a great deal of whatever he desired." [45]

Dean suggested bringing visitors into Katmai by boat to better express the philosophy of the monument as a natural museum rather than a recreation area. In particular, he believed that visitors needed to be made to understand the concept of bear country versus human country. He assessed the 1967 NPS approach to bear safety as "drifting from incident to incident" and stressed the need for an evaluation of what sort of experience the agency desired visitors to have in Katmai and particularly with bears. [46]

Specific management actions proposed in Dean's study included the following:

* Erection of physical devices to establish boundaries between "bear country" and "human country." Fences or catwalks for human use were possibilities.

* Prohibition of the use of garbage cans by concessioner employees and visitors as bait to provide opportunities to observe and photograph bears. Further, existing procedures--for burning garbage and protecting garbage awaiting burning with electric fencing--needed to be enforced. Also, the incineration process needed to be improved.

* More extensive transportation of problem bears. Dean cited examples of two bears transported by barge which returned to Katmai shortly after their transportation. Bears needed to be removed several drainages away, thus making removal three or more drainages distant mandatory. This required air transport, not barges.

* Better control of human behavior. Dean suggested that alcohol consumption at Katmai needed to be better controlled. He also proposed making visitors noisier, perhaps by encouraging them to carry whistles. Beyond this, Dean urged that people understand the types of situations which could lead to trouble. [47]

In discussing employee safety, Dean noted that employees were more at risk relative to bears than visitors, but pointed out that differences of opinion existed as to the severity of this risk. Fish and Wildlife Service and NPS conclusions on such risk differed, and needed to be reconciled. Campground users were another subject of concern as, unprotected by walls, they were more vulnerable to bears. Dean stated that

...serious injury and death is a matter of time until, rather than a question of will there be. Bears and humans in the campground must be separated by a fence, cabin walls, a raised platform or some other system. [48]

In ending his report, Dean recommended further study of bear and human behavior.

Blinn found Dean's analysis and recommendations valid. He suggested carrying out those of Dean's recommendations which were in line with current NPS management policy. But there were some problems with a few of the recommendations. Fences, Blinn thought, would create an artificial situation that would diminish the visitor experience. Visitor education seemed to be working, and more education might stave off the inevitable bear-imposed injury. The garbage could and should be handled better. Procedures for handling Brooks Camp garbage should be extended to the F&WS research station the next time the permit for that station was reissued. [49]

The following spring, therefore, Blinn began working to educate Park Service employees, concessioner employees and visitors about the necessity of not placing food or trash outside buildings. Garbage was to be kept inside overnight and then burned in outside barrels before being hauled to the Valley Road dump, where it would be thoroughly incinerated. Blinn also recommended that in the future, garbage disposal units should be installed in NPS and lodge areas. [50]

The new procedures were not easily accepted. The concessioner, which by now was Wien Consolidated Airlines, was begrudging in its response to Dean's recommendations, and the NPS had to prod the company into compliance. Wien continued to take the attitude that it was the NPS's responsibility to keep the bears away from the buildings. When bears, in 1970, destroyed the screened fish cleaning shed, the concessioner asserted that it was the fault of the NPS and did not rebuilt the shed. [51] By the end of the 1970 season, however, the garbage problem had been largely overcome. What difficulties remained were ironed out during the next several years. [52]

Bear Management Activities, 1970-1974

Even as Blinn was attempting to deal with bears in Katmai National Monument, the NPS was attempting to deal with bears in parks and monuments on a nationwide basis. An advisory committee dealing with Yellowstone National Park developed three management objectives. The NPS headquarters office, apparently impressed by the committee's findings, forwarded its recommendations in January 1970 to the various park units. Parks were advised to:

* Maintain populations of grizzly and black bears at levels that were sustainable under natural conditions as part of the native fauna of the park.

* Plan the development and use of the park so as to minimize conflicts and unpleasant or dangerous incidents with bears, and

* Encourage bears to lead their natural lives with minimum interference by humans.

Each park with bear problems was directed to review its management plan and revise it to "fully achieve" the systemwide bear management objectives. [53] In response, Ernest J. Borgman, who replaced George Hall as General Superintendent for Alaska at the end of 1969, outlined some of the measures recommended by Dean and Blinn. He endorsed Blinn's opposition to the use of fences and pointed out the folly of bear relocation. (Five bears, as it turned out, had been relocated since 1968; four had returned by the following spring, and the fifth had been killed by hunters outside the monument. One bear, he noted, had returned to Brooks Camp after swimming 12 miles of open water. Another bear had returned after being airlifted 100 miles from Brooks Camp.) Borgman concluded:

Once a totally clean camp and campground are established, should a bear continually enter it [Brooks Camp] and become a nuisance, it is suggested that no attempt at transport to another area be made unless it is a transport of a bear carcass. [54]

Borgman dismissed the possibility of closing Brooks Camp and establishing a lodge facility in some other spot. He wrote, "...there are virtually no areas that are bear-free except the Valley of 10,000 Smokes and the glaciated areas. We must face the fact that if we are to occupy Katmai, we are occupying bear country." [55]

Over the next several years, the problem of managing bear-human interaction proceeded along the lines proposed by Dean, Blinn, and Borgman. Blinn, in 1972 or 1973, wrote a memorandum entitled "Katmai National Monument - Bear Policy for Developed Areas" that established a policy which accepted bears as a necessary and desirable part of the Katmai environment. Visitors were to be instructed in bear safety. Garbage was to be kept away from bears. Bears were to be kept out of "people territory" through harassment, yelling, throwing rocks and similar means. Bears showing no fear or respect for people were to be transplanted. Bears showing unprovoked aggression toward people were to be destroyed. [56]

As the decade wore on, the monument's bear policy became further refined. Some policy alterations resulted from scientific studies of bears, while others resulted from incidents initiated by bears.

One of the first policies to be questioned was bear transplantation. Borgman, who reviewed the situation in 1971, recognized that relocating "offending bears" was still necessary. He recognized, however, that transplanting bears was hardly an undiluted success. Based on the experience of the last four years, Borgman estimated a 50-50 chance of success in transplanting bears in Katmai. [57]

Additional steps were taken to increase the safety of Brooks Camp visitors. In order to publicize bear habits and bear behavior, as Dean's study had recommended, NPS rangers began in the late 1960s to give on-the-beach briefings to each new arrival (see Chapter 7). Then, in 1971, rangers distributed to visitors a newly-designed bear safety brochure. [58] Both the brochure and the talks provided specific guidelines for personal safety. Anglers were not to yield fish to bears. Campers were to keep their camp clean and to store food properly. They were shown the elevated cache in which their food could be kept and given plastic bags in which to place their trash and carry it to the ranger station. All visitors were told that the safety of future guests and the well-being of the bears depended on following these guidelines. [59]

A major event in bear-human relationships at Katmai occurred in 1972 when Brooks Camp was invaded by 15 to 20 bears. The bears caused over $21,000 in property damage that year. The problem was attributed, in part, to a very poor fish run, which left the bears hungry. They even dug up the sewer pipes in their search for food. [60]

The most serious bear incident recorded in the Katmai area occurred several miles west of the monument boundaries in July 1973. A brown bear attacked a Naknek couple, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Jensen, on the Naknek-King Salmon road; it was one of many such incidents that has occurred in or near the two communities over the years. Mr. Jensen, severely lacerated, required 200 stitches and remained in critical condition for some time. [61]

July 1973 was also the month in which a new technique in bear behavior modification was attempted at Katmai. Supervisory Park Ranger Steve Buskirk borrowed a shotgun and 12-gauge No. 6 shells from Jim Faro, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game officer. Buskirk replaced the shot in the shells with rock salt. On July 31 he used the shotgun and rock salt-loaded shells to "pepper" a sow and its 1-1/2-year-old cub which had been visiting Brooks Camp trash cans on a regular basis. The peppering took place near a trash can. On August 2, Buskirk peppered the sow again as she walked down the Naknek Lake beach. In Buskirk's opinion, the first peppering was successful (the sow never returned to the trash cans). The second peppering was not successful, he concluded, because it was not for a distinct act. [62] When peppering began, bears familiar with Brooks Camp were little affected; but by July of 1976, a ranger reported that most bears would bolt at the sound of a round being chambered. [63]

Problem bears continued to be tranquilized. With the assistance of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, two "rogue bear cubs" in 1972 were removed to an area outside the monument. The following July, a chartered float plane flew a bear to Geographic Harbor. The plane crash landed and sank, and the bear drowned. No bears were removed in 1974; one was transplanted in 1975. [64]

Planning and Policy Development, 1975-1985

In January 1975, as part of a nationwide survey, Katmai staff were quizzed on how well they were managing their bear population. In response, Chief Ranger Mike Tollefson noted that bears had damaged monument facilities on nine occasions the previous year; there were three incidents in the campground and six incidents in the concessioner's area. All reported incidents had occurred at Brooks Camp; most had taken place at night.

Tollefson gave a mixed response to questions which asked the degree to which monument facilities were bear proofed. The monument had three burn barrels in use, none of which were bear proofed, and an unprotected sanitary landfill. Overall, however, it was estimated that bears' opportunities for obtaining food from human sources were "low" or "none."

In order to minimize bear problems, it was noted that rangers had spent 27 person-days the previous summer providing information about bears to visitors, 40 days handling garbage, 8 days handling injury and property damage situations, 10 days on research, and 2 days in training. Future efforts called for a continuation of scientific research, preparation of additional visitor information materials and warning signs, refinement of bear relocation techniques and improvement of garbage control. [65]

In order to avoid unfortunate bear encounters, monument personnel in 1975 were more concerned than ever about prevention. NPS rangers continued to give visitors a bear safety brochure, and supplementary materials were available at several camp locations. Warning signs were posted. Numerous NPS patrols were deployed when bears were in camp or along the beach, high risk areas were restricted, and bear advisory messages were included in every interpretive program offered. Caches were available to those who camped out at the Brooks Camp campground. But no bearproof storage facilities (except for the interior of Fure's, Baked Mountain, and other cabins) were available to backcountry users.

By 1975, Katmai had developed an ad hoc four-step bear policy, of which prevention of bear-human encounters was its primary goal. If avoidance didn't work, and bears became habituated to camp areas, peppering took place. NPS policy stated that if a bear

does not become bold, but rather remains skittish around people, it will be allowed around camp. A nonaggressive bear is tolerated. As long as the bear does not show an interest in burn barrels it may wander at will.

If peppering was unsuccessful, relocation was attempted. Two darting guns, used with the drug Sernylin, and two culvert traps were used to trap and confine bears slated for relocation. The final step was destruction. This step was undertaken, however, only if a bear returned after relocation and all other measures had failed, or if it threatened human life. [66]

After a five year lull, bear research began again in the spring of 1974. Biologist Will Troyer, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, did an aerial survey of bear denning sites; that summer, he conducted another aerial survey which monitored bear activities along salmon streams. [67] From 1975 to 1979, Troyer, who was now employed by the NPS, studied the distribution of the Katmai bear population. Central to that effort was the capturing and radio-collaring of several Brooks Camp bears. He had mixed success with collaring--some bears managed to slip their collars--but Troyer was able to track the movements of those who retained them, some back to their denning sites. Meanwhile, aerial surveys of the monument's bear population continued each year during the mid- to late 1970s. [68]

In 1979, methods of handling garbage were modified in order to further bear proof the Brooks Camp area. The camp's burn barrels, which had been used since 1966, were abandoned because the burning had begun to affect the camp's air quality. The barrels were replaced by a trash compactor which was installed in the double-walled annex to the NPS ranger cache. The method of hauling garbage away from Brooks Camp also changed. Since 1966, refuse had been hauled to the dump along the Valley Road. Beginning in 1979, however, the compacted trash was barged to Lake Camp, then trucked to the Naknek dump. [69]

Park personnel were sufficiently successful with bear-avoidance techniques and peppering that no bears needed to be transplanted between 1976 and 1979. In July 1980, however, a bear was spending so much time around the campground that it was removed to Idavain Creek. The transplant was a mixed success. It did not stay away--in fact, it was back at Brooks in four days--but it stayed out of trouble for the rest of the summer. [70]

In 1982, the NPS signalled its continuing interest in resource management in general, and more specifically in bear management, when it hired Kathy Jope as the park's first resource management specialist. Jope had recently emerged from a graduate program in which she had studied bear behavior and bear-human interactions; she was also familiar with bear management problems at other NPS units, having served previous stints at Glacier and Denali national parks. [71]

An early project in which she became involved, and an area of long standing safety concern regarding bear-human encounters, dealt with Brooks River Falls. The trail that led to the falls paralleled the river's south bank, and visitors often encountered bears along the way. Once they got to the trail terminus, photographers and other visitors often got uncomfortably close to bears as they fished at the base of the falls. In order to separate visitors from the bears, the NPS built an elevated bear viewing platform just southeast of the falls in 1982. The following summer, based on Jope's recommenda-tions, the agency blazed a new trail to the falls which stayed well away from the riverbank and avoided high potential bear habitat. [72]

In the late 1960s, Frederick Dean's report had recommended that physical barriers be erected in certain areas to establish boundaries, such as fences or catwalks, between "bear country" and "human country." That recommendation was adopted in 1983 when snow fencing was placed at strategic locations in and around Brooks Camp. Additional fencing was erected in 1984. Soon, however, sections of it no longer remained standing, and before long the fencing was removed. [73]

Peppering techniques were also modified during this period. As noted above, peppering had begun in 1973, and for the remainder of the decade, NPS staff experimented with different sizes of shot. Finally, rubber shot was used. [74] Beginning in 1983 or 1984, peppering was restricted to the side rump of bears aimed from a minimum distance of 30 yards. The policy was intended to discourage bears from coming into the campground and housing areas, but permitting them free use of the river and beaches to pursue fish and other usual foods. [75]

NPS planning was revised to reflect the latest bear avoidance techniques. The park's first draft Resource Management Plan, approved in 1982, noted that the creation of a bear management plan was its top-rated natural resource management project. In 1983, as a result, the park developed and implemented a bear plan. That plan emphasized the prevention of conflict between bears and humans and requested more research on bear-human interaction. Three years later, the plan was revised. [76]

Bear Research in the 1980s and 1990s

In July and August 1982, Joan Beattie, a student at the University of California Santa Cruz, studied the bear-human interaction patterns at Brooks Camp. She concluded that most interactions occurred in areas of human use and that as visitor use increased, bear-human interactions did, too. She recommended that the NPS print a multilingual bear brochure, move the bear platform farther away from Brooks Falls, widen the trails, and redesign the floating bridge to allow bears to move underneath it. [77]

In 1983, Katmai attempted its first bear survey in eight years when, in July, August, and September, it counted 110 bears which congregated along seven of its salmon streams. [78] A year later, the NPS let a two-year contract for studying bear-fisherman conflicts along Brooks River. The contract was awarded to Dr. Barrie Gilbert of Utah State University, who first visited the park in October 1984. [79] He and a graduate student, Anne Braaten, spent much of the 1985 and 1986 seasons observing bear behavior. Gilbert turned in an interim report in the spring of 1987. [80]

Gilbert, in his report, noted that the park was doing an excellent job separating bears and humans; after all, no contacts or injuries had been recorded during the time frame of his study. Nevertheless, he discovered that three situations increased the proximity to unacceptable levels. First, increasing numbers of fishermen, either in the river or on the trail, often competed with bears. Second, some fishermen did not adhere to the fishing regulations, some of which had been designed to deter competition between bears and humans. Finally, some fishermen took a dim view of having to share the river with bears. Having isolated those reasons, NPS personnel were given a clear blueprint on how to proceed. [81]

Susan Warner, a Katmai wildlife biologist, conducted further bear management studies in the summer of 1987. Warner recognized that the park was undergoing, at that time, an environmental assessment on the park's fishing regulations. Given the alternatives outlined in the environmental assessment, Warner concluded that there were two alternatives which would best reduce the level of conflict between bears and people. First, she recommended that there be sections of Brooks River where fishing would be restricted. Second, she felt that the length of the Brooks River fishing season should be reduced. [82]

In June 1990, Dr. Gilbert turned in a final report related to his mid-1980s bear observations, the recommendations of which had far-reaching implications. He noted, for instance, that sows with cubs avoided the Brooks River during peak visitor periods, and he reiterated that the risk of aggressive confrontations between bears and humans increased substantially during the fall. As a final recommendation, he noted, "From the perspective of reducing the multiple sources of disturbances to bears, a change in camp location is one option that could resolve a host of management problems." This was a poignant suggestion in light of the Brooks River DCP, which was distributed the following year for public comment. [83]

NPS personnel, in the past several years, have come to recognize that the maintenance of the Brooks River bear population is one of Katmai's most critical management issues. Agency officials have long realized the difficulty in managing the resources along Brooks River, and they realize it requires constant public education and an ever-broadening knowledge of bear behavior in order to provide a safe experience to the growing number of visitors. But they also recognize that the opportunity to view brown bears in the wild is one of the major reasons why visitors come to the park.

The NPS has been actively managing the Brooks Camp bear population for over thirty years, and to a large extent they have been successful in preventing injuries to both bears and people. Even so, problems continue. Many bears still need to be peppered from time to time; more rarely, bears need to be destroyed. And human visitors are by no means immune; the July 1991 injury of an NPS employee along the Brooks Falls trail--the first bear-caused injury in 25 years--took place even though all necessary precautions were taken. [84]

As has been noted in Chapter 6, many visitors and agency officials are convinced that a large and increasing number of visitors is incompatible with the health of the local bear population. As a result, they feel that Brooks Camp will need to be moved some day. Others, however, feel that the camp is optimally situated where it is. Park managers, caught in the middle, recognize that the best way to avoid management difficulties, in the short term at least, is to pursue an active bear management program. To that end, the Park Service sponsored a bear behavior study during the 1990 summer season. Less specific bear management studies took place in 1991 and 1992. The year 1992 also saw the construction of a second bear viewing platform, located just upstream from the floating bridge. The platform, which had been funded by the Alaska Congressional delegation over the objections of agency staff, allowed an ever-larger number of visitors to safely view the Brooks River bears. [85]

The Exxon Valdez oil spill of March 1989, disastrous as it was, brought forth some of the first studies which dealt with Katmai resources east of the Aleutian Range. The various VECO-sponsored oil cleanup crews quickly became aware that the mouth of various coastal streams was excellent brown bear habitat. NPS rangers, as a result, were dispatched to the area to provide the crews a modicum of safety. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game responded to that concern by sponsoring a study of the spill's effect on the Alaska Peninsula brown bear population. Both the National Park Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service cooperated in the study, which began in 1989 and was renewed in 1990 and 1991. On the heels of that study, the NPS carried out its first population index surveys along the Shelikof Strait coastline when it surveyed Big River and Kukak Bay during the summer of 1992. [86]

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Last Updated: 24-Sep-2000