Brooks River Bears Need Your Help

two sleeping bear cubs

402’s spring cubs rest near the Lower River Platform at Brooks River on October 24, 2013.

In 2017, an elevated bridge and boardwalk will be constructed at Brooks River. In this post, you’ll find a letter that asks Katmai National Park to further restrict the timing of staging and construction for the bridge. My reasoning is outlined in the letter. I wrote it because I believe no staging or work on the project should happen from late June to late July or September and October. Brooks River’s bears, especially those who are not habituated to people, need complete access to the lower river area in the fall. That is their last chance to gain weight before hibernation. The current work schedule allows staging and work to begin when bears need Brooks River most. This is not acceptable.

You are welcome to use the letter to contact the park. You can use it as is, or personalize it as you see fit. You can copy the letter’s text below or download the rich text file which can be used with almost all word processing software.

Before you contact Katmai with your thoughts, please consider the following…

  • The construction dates for the bridge project are in a federal contract which has already been awarded. If the dates can be modified it won’t be a simple process since it’s currently a contractual obligation. Don’t expect any change, if it comes, to be quick.
  • Form letters are easy to respond to, because the recipient only needs to write one response. Personalized messages often require more in-depth responses.
  • Phone calls can be more effective than written correspondence.
  • Be polite and respectful when you contact the park. The people who manage Katmai are intelligent and well-meaning. They do not deserve insults or personal attacks.

You can contact the park in several ways.

And now the letter:

Superintendent Sturm,

As you know, an elevated bridge and boardwalk will be constructed at Brooks River in 2017. The summary of work outlined in the project’s construction specifications generally restricts work and staging of equipment and supplies outside of July. Yet, it places minimal restrictions on staging and construction in late summer and fall. This will have serious impacts on bears who need full access to the river in September and October. I urge you to reconsider the construction schedule and modify the current contract to minimize the project’s impact on bears.

The construction schedule allows work in the river corridor to commence as soon as October 1. Work hours outlined in the construction specifications also permits staging on the spit at the mouth of Brooks River anytime after August 1. These activities can potentially displace many bears from the lower river, especially those who are not human-habituated.

Dozens of brown bears gather at Brooks River throughout September and October. The fall feeding period is especially critical, since bears are hyperphagic and need access to Brooks River’s abundant salmon. The river mouth provides salmon catch rates far higher than other areas of the river. Additionally, many bears who use the river in the fall are not habituated to people or vehicles. Habitat use by these bears is already restricted by the presence of people. Staging and construction in the fall will further displace these animals. Impacts to wildlife and the visitor experience from staging and construction of the bridge is of short duration, but can potentially be serious for individual bears who need to utilize the river. Bears that feed at Brooks River may do so because they know of no other or better place. For them, salmon in Brooks River ensures their yearly survival.

I understand that water levels in Naknek Lake provide a narrow window to transport materials and supplies to Brooks River, and often this can only occur in mid to late summer. However, this does not justify displacing bears from the food resources they need to survive, even for one season. Brooks River is a world famous bear viewing area. In FY16, the bearcams received 40 million hits. Brooks River’s wildlife deserves the highest level of protection possible. To do this, I urge you to place further restrictions on the construction schedule for the elevated bridge at Brooks River. Staging should only occur outside of July and September-October. Construction and clearing work in the river corridor should begin no sooner than November 1.

I look forward to your response and thank you for your time.

18 thoughts on “Brooks River Bears Need Your Help

  1. Thank you for your leadership on this. I will send this letter too, but I also think sending it once won’t change very much. A sustained, multi-pronged campaign (phone, mail, e-mail, social media) from now until the summer would be key. This way, there is really no way to escape the constant drumbeat of our request. Also, if there are newspapers/publications that the Superintendent reads regularly, we should also try to submit op-ed articles or letters to the editor.

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    • I agree. It will take a prolonged effort. That’s why I enlisted the help of bearcam fans. There are far too many of us to passively ignore. Thank you for your support of Brooks River and its wildlife.

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    • If you consider Katmai’s bears to consist of one population, then the construction will have a negligible effect. That’s probably the NPS’s line of reasoning. However, I think Brooks Rivers bears should be managed differently because of their national and international significance. Brooks River is the most iconic bear viewing area in any national park.

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  2. thank you for this! I too wonder how they could be so foolish…. but it is probably due to calendar convenience and ignorance. i placed it onto my Facebook page as well on Ministry of Animals….
    I have a blog by that name as well… I do believe that simple activism can be truly effective… Snail mail and phone calls are apparently the most effective, but petitions can raise awareness quickly….

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  3. thanks mike, for writing such an impassioned letter and for urging the rest of us to do our part. i’ve taken choice bits, and added my own words to it and emailed it to supt. sturm. i know the chances of changing the dates of construction are slim, but we each have to do whatever we can to expose the poor choices the Park is making and hope that our collective voices will be heard… joan h.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you Mike, and I will do my part.. I really want the bears to have their habitat as it should be. Katmai National Park has a special place in my heart and I will do whatever I can to help protect it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mike, I have a question for you. From your experience, is a bear’s behavior defined, or can be altered, due to something that happens one season, or does it take many seasons (years) of the same thing happening repeatedly for a bear to alter it’s behavior?

    In this case with the bridge construction and the stage of equipment, if equipment is staged out on the spit in August and bears return in September to find equipment there and construction begins as early as October 1st, we can assume that many bears that generally use the mouth of the river, the spit and areas near the current LR platform may avoid the area due to the loud noises, the sheer volume of people in the area, and perhaps due to the fact that construction materials are occupying spaces they may have wanted to use. I’m not sure how long this bridge construction is meant to take (hopefully just one year), but let’s say a bear’s behavior is altered in 2017 due to the bridge construction activities, will this permanently alter their behavior in subsequent years – such as 2018, 2019, etc.? Will they “remember” from 2017 that this area was pretty much inaccessible for them and so in Fall of 2018 they will decide to remain at other streams or rivers rather than returning to Brooks? Or is one season where their “normal” behavior was altered not be enough to deter them over subsequent years? So, they will they, hey I couldn’t/didn’t want to use this area in 2017, but now it’s 2018, let me try it again? For instance will this deter bear 410 from sleeping her hours away on the spit because the equipment and noise may bother her so much so that in subsequent years (may she live that long) she will choose not to use this spot any longer?

    I assume that the answer to this question depends on several factors, least of which is the individual bear itself, but rather, perhaps the age of the bear — ie, if it’s a spring cub with sow who avoids the area, then spring cub may never learn that the LR is a profitable place to be in Fall, if the bear is male or female and if it has a cub(s) or not may alter its behavior, and of course, the level of construction itself and how the noise and people and equipment may scare/frighten/deter a bear.

    And, if I may, one devil’s advocate question for you. In your blog post and sample letter, you state that you would like construction to begin no sooner than November 1st and you list out your reasons for the protection of the bears during their crucial stage of hyperphagia. However, my question is, now that the construction contract has been granted, is it realistic at all that a construction company in Alaska can delay work on an outdoor building structure of this magnitude until after November 1st, at which time weather and daylight hours may become a huge factor which slows down and halts construction? As we’ve seen on the bear cams, snow has certainly fallen prior to November 1st, and you point out yourself that due to lower water levels, it may not be possible for the transportation of materials or people in and out of the Brooks area from November 1st and beyond. So, is it even realistic to delay construction to November 1st and have any hope that the project can be completed in a timely or cost-effective manner? Lastly, is there an alternate, but yet easily accessible, area where building construction materials could be staged during August other than the spit, an area that bears use frequently including newly independent bears and sows with cubs?

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    • A bears’ genes and its experience dictate its behavior, just like us. Bears like 435 and 410 are highly human-habituated and I don’t anticipate they’ll be impacted much by bridge construction or staging on the spit. The seemingly ignore vehicles and airplanes already. If 410, for example, can’t find a spot to sleep on the spit, she’ll just move somewhere close by.

      Now, the story will likely be different for bears without as much experience around people and those that don’t show high levels of human-habituation. Staging and construction may severely disrupt their use of the river. Simply having the lodge open until Sept. 18 does that, so there’s no reason to believe these bears won’t be temporarily displaced. Maybe this will have an affect on their behavior in subsequent years, but I really don’t know. I’m more concerned that these bears have access to fish in the lower river in fall 2017. The displacement is temporary, but they need the fish to survive that winter, not subsequent winters.

      The park’s timeline for construction requires the construction company to work throughout the winter. I’d be surprised if a Nov. 1 start date would be a big issue. There is an alternate location where some materials can be stored and that is the new barge access road and landing area near the Beaver Pond. However, the park was mired in a lawsuit about the construction of road last summer when I left. I do not know the resolution of it, but at the time the park was not permitted to use the road.

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  6. I really commend you for doing this and I will write a letter. I just am so sad about what is going on, and could go on about a lot of things that have happened recently that I do not understand but yet I do, sadly. I just think you are awesome and I admire you for standing up for what you believe in. I know how it feels to state opinion when most don’t agree with you and been chastised for it. You have to be who you are and fight for what you believe is right no matter what, otherwise how could oneself be at peace. Rock on Mr. Fitz, and I will have your back. Thank you for stating what you think. You have big balls!

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