Brown bear watching and wildlife tours on the wild coast of Katmai National Park in Alaska.
Brown bear watching & wildlife tours on the coast of Katmai National Park, Alaska
Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
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Values of Bear Watching along the Katmai Coast
by Lynn Rogers

I believe that bears and people benefit from well managed bear-watching along the Katmai Coast. Katmai National Park is part of the largest brown bear protection area in the world, and most of the bears have learned to essentially ignore the inconsequential humans who do not approach too closely. People have a rare opportunity to observe undisturbed bears making a living as they have done there for thousands of years: grazing, catching salmon, digging clams, playing, fighting, mating, and caring for cubs. Naturalist-leaders further minimize disturbance by interpreting bear behavior and avoiding nervous bears. As people experience their first wild brown bears, I watch attitudes change from apprehension to fascination as the people replace myth with fact and realize that these timid giants are not the ferocious animals they always thought. The presence of the bear-watchers helps protect the bears from poachers. The bear-watchers give the bears a new economic value that could lead to protection of additional areas as demand for bear-watching increases. And the bear-watchers return home to share their new attitude about bears with others, leading to better protection of bears and bear habitat wherever the people live. The bear-watchers benefit from a new-found appreciation of bears and loss of fear, which can give greater enjoyment of the outdoors wherever they go in bear country. Tour operators and their communities benefit from the revenue.

There are two concerns about bear-watching: disturbance to the bears and the safety of the people. Disturbance is negligible compared with effects of hunting and compared with effects of disturbance in areas where food is scarce. Bears along the Katmai Coast are blessed with such rich food supply that they are among the fastest growing and most successfully reproducing brown bears in the world. They quickly habituate to people with many of the bears in the most popular viewing areas seeing their first people as cubs. Any disturbance to bears that are newcomers to popular viewing areas is temporary as the bears quickly habituate to people. Any temporary disturbance by bear-watchers is certainly outweighed by the benefits that bear-watchers provide. Film companies that desire to approach closely may temporarily disturb some bears, causing them to move away unharmed, but the resulting education of millions of people can benefit the whole Katmai bear population forever as attitudes are changed.

So far, the expense and logistics of reaching the Katmai Coast have kept visitors at low numbers. Visitors could become a disturbance if large numbers camped in prime feeding areas like the mouths of salmon streams, in clamming areas, and on sedge flats such as at Hallo Bay and Swikshak Bay. Large numbers of visitors spread singly across the sedge flats or cruising the rivers could dominate the area and keep timid bears away. If bear-watching increases many fold, new restrictions might be needed in prime feeding areas. At present, the temporary disturbances to a few bears by the low number of visitors appear to be far outweighed by the benefits to bears and people.

Katmai Coastal Bear Tours has designed an eco-tourism package that has negligible impact on the area and the bears. A limit of six bear-watchers live and eat on a boat located offshore. They come ashore in a small boat with minimal disturbance. Led by a naturalist, they remain in a tight group as they walk about, taking nothing but pictures and leaving nothing but tracks, and most of the tracks are washed away by the next tide.

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Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
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Katmai Coastal Bear Tours
Homer, Alaska 99603
Phone 1-907-235-8337

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