The Conservation of Alaskan Brown Bears

Lake Clark National Park is a perfect haven for brown bears, and this needs to be protected

Lake Clark National Park, the destination of our Brown Bear Photography Workshop, is a pristine wilderness area and a perfect place to observe bears in their natural environment. Vast and remote, the park has a low number of tourists and offers a true wilderness experience. Due to solid conservation policies, the park has been able to maintain this balance and protect its large bear population – but there could be some threats on the horizon.

– Text by Irene Gianotto, images by Barrett Hedges

Lake Clark National Park: is a pristine wilderness area

Lake Clark National Park is a remote and isolated wilderness area with breathtaking vistas and one of the largest bear populations in North America. This park embraces more than four million acres of diverse habitats, including its tundra-colored hills, glaciers, mountains, and a spectacular coastline. In the heart of the park is a shimmering turquoise lakes, and two active volcanoes they can be spotted smoking in the distance. The park’s remoteness adds incredible value to this pristine wilderness area; it is only accessible by small aircrafts. Once you’re there, you’ll find no roads, no campgrounds, and only one maintained hiking trail, the Tanalian Trail.

Lake Clark presents an intact ecosystem with an impressive range of sub-arctic wildlife species, including 37 species of terrestrial mammals as caribou, moose, Dall sheep, wolves, 25 species of fish and a variety of 187 different types of birds. But what makes the park truly unique is the large and stable population of brown bears. In recent years, park biologists have counted 219 brow bears within a 54 square mile area on the coast; an incredibly high density.

 

Bear Photography at its best

Humans have never posted a threats to Lake Clark’s bear population and the animals are remarkably relaxed in the company of people. Because the number of visitors is low, people’s behaviour in the park is consistent and predictable to the bears, and there has never been any hunting, the bears aren’t threatened by humans, and encounters can be exceptionally close. The opportunities for bear spotting in general, and bear photography specifically, are therefore unrivalled.

Find out more about Brown Bear Photography Workshop with Barrett Hedges!

Bear Conservation Policies in Alaska

Lake Clark’s brown bears have always been carefully protected. The park upholds a strict set of rules and regulations regarding littering and animal encounters. Monitoring and information collection are fundamental in preserving the bear population: the animals are annually surveyed by the park biologists, while a study on the dynamics inside the groups is run constantly. Different agencies run conservation education programs to educate Alaskans and others about fish and wildlife resources, all to educate a citizenry capable of making informed decisions related to a sustainable management.

Potential Threats to Bear Conservation  

However, some threats are pending on this incredible location and its animal inhabitants.
As mentioned above, this intact ecosystem supports a full complement of sub-arctic wildlife species, and none of them is endangered or invasive. It is believed there are about 200,000 of brown bears remaining in the wild, and even though listed as a least concern species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because of this number, this species has faced cases of local extinction and its habitat is in fact under constant threat and on the decline. In order to preserve them, in fact, what should be done is not only active monitoring or in worst cases the re-establishment of extirpated populations, but also take action to preserve their natural environment. This means fighting against pending projects like the Pebble Mine that threatens grizzly habitat in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

Moreover, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has recently been fighting against a lawsuit brought by the state of Alaska in an attempt to weaken protections against hunting practices. Alaska’s state approach to wildlife management aims to encourage killing more bears and wolves to boost the populations of moose and caribou, which can then be harvested by sport hunters. The mandate comes from a law recognizing that certain moose, caribou and deer populations are important human food resources, so when these populations drop too low, the Alaska Board of Game can enact “intense management”. The predator control toolkit includes killing wolf pups in dens, shooting wolf pack from helicopters and allow sportsmen to shoot grizzlies over bait.

However, federal wildlife refuges operate under a different mandate and when State officials tried to extend this policy to them the US Fish and Wildlife Service, after years of saying no, last year adopted a rule to make the denial permanent. But this April President Trump signed a resolution to revoke one of the agency’s law banning most predator control on Alaskan refuges, repealing the Obama-era regulation, and going against many environmental groups who see them as necessary for protecting some of Alaska’s most iconic species. Critics contend Alaska officials use unsportsmanlike techniques that would have horrified Teddy Roosevelt, creator of the first federal refuge, to boost moose and caribou numbers.

Keen to do photograph bears in Alaska? Find out how to join our Bear Photography Workshop!