A Close Encounter at Brooks River

 

Early today, bearcam captured a very close encounter of the ursine kind.

When the video begins, two people are walking out of the water in the direction of Brooks Lodge. A relatively small brown bear, probably a subadult, then begins to run towards them. Eventually, the bear gets very close to both individuals. Other than wading into very deep water, the couple had few options in this situation. Their only line of retreat was towards Brooks Lodge (the direction they were walking).

Screen shot of bear and person near each other. Text reads "Person and bear." The person and bear are in the yellow circle.

The bear could’ve approached the people for a few reasons. If the people were fishing and if they had a fish on their line, then this could have attracted the bear. If the bear had taken fish from anglers before, which happens at Brooks River, then it would be more likely to approach people as it searches for an easy meal. The splashing of their feet could’ve caught the bear’s attention. That’s a sound that mimics the sound of splashing fish, and for bears at Brooks River this is the sound of food. The bear could also have been attempting to play or assert its dominance.

The bear doesn’t look like it was charging the people defensively. Its bounds aren’t direct. In contrast to this bear, a charging bear moves very quickly in a straight line. Defensive bears, from what I’ve observed, do not deviate from their target until they decide to stop the charge.

There was one thing the couple could have done to reduce the chances of a scary encounter—stay together. Instead of walking 5-10 meters apart, they could’ve walked shoulder to shoulder. Size means a lot to a bear and bears are much less likely to approach groups of people compared to single people. Beyond anything else traveling in groups, especially groups of four or more people, is the most important step we can take to increase our level of safety in bear country. Most importantly, the couple could have not gone into that area.

People are permitted to be in that location, and often don’t consult rangers before doing so. However, I don’t necessarily place blame on them. Quite often, visitors are not aware how vulnerable they are in many places at Brooks River.

This is a place where people have a lot of freedom, maybe more so than any other well known bear viewing location in Alaska. The only area closed to people is the immediate area near Brooks Falls from June 15 to August 15. Situations like this don’t happen every day, but bears and people are often in very close proximity. I know many of us who watch the bearcam won’t visit Brooks Camp, but a few of us will. If you choose to visit, please consider ways in which you can minimize this type of encounter. I recommend staying on established trails and bear viewing from specific locations where bears expect to find people, like the wildlife viewing platforms. The river mouth often looks like a great place to be with its open sight lines. Yet, the depth of the water greatly limits where one can go to avoid bears. The river mouth from late June through July and again from late August through early October is wonderful habitat for bears. For this reason, everyone who visits Brooks Camp should consider not going into this area. This provides a higher level of safety for us and greater opportunities for bears to access the resources they need to survive without our interference.

Despite my best intentions over the years, I still got much too close to bears when I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings, when I traveled into a spot where sight lines were limited, or when I was in an area where bears were likely to feed or rest. Close encounters will happen, but there are ways we can minimize the risk.

  • Watch bears from trails and the wildlife viewing platforms.
  • Avoid moving into areas where bears are likely to rest, play, or feed.
  • Give yourself two avenues of escape to avoid an approaching bear.

Related Posts:
Giving Bears Space
The Challenges of Managing Bears and People at Brooks Camp

4 thoughts on “A Close Encounter at Brooks River

  1. Hi Mike
    Thank you for writing about the situation that occured yesterday between humans and bear – in an honest and critical way.
    It provides a way to learn about bear safety in relation to a real encounter which looked potentially dangerous and slightly out of control.

    Thank you for all your work with wildlife, and for being interactively present at the Bear Cam chat.
    I appreciate your commentary and knowledge of wild nature.
    Hilsen, Augusta. 😉

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  2. Thank you Ranger Mike. I was at Brooks last Sept. and always kept to the trails and traveled in groups like the rangers recommended. I worry about the bears when stupid people cause an encounter. It could mean the bear’s life.

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  3. Mike, thank you for commenting on this situation and offering advice about how to avoid these encounters. If only people would think before they do things. It is not a vacation spot. It’s a bear spot.. and people need to change their focus and realize the bears’ lives depend on their actions. Thank you for continuing to be a part of education at Brooks River. It is upsetting to us cam viewers when we see these close encounters. We always treasure your sound and reasonable voice of experience.

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  4. Mike, Thank you so much for addressing the close encounter situation, and thanks for using my video for the visual 🙂 I appreciate your knowledge and experience and know if people would just use common sense and think before they act the outcome would be positive for both parties. Great advice given to minimize the risk of getting into these situations and keeping both bears and humans safe. There was another close encounter today right by the same area on the LR, but this time it was Grazer and her yearlings that were there. The people looked really close and had backed themselves into a no escape situation, luckily they got a chance to move. It was scary to watch to say the least. Please know you are one of a kind and we appreciate all that you do for us..Smiles 🙂

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