Charges pending for three Katmai visitors who approached feeding brown bears

Katmai bears fish at Brooks Falls. Photo: NPS

Three visitors to Katmai National Park could face charges after approaching brown bears feeding on salmon Thursday evening.

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Two Alaska residents and an out-of-state visitor entered a closed area below Brooks Falls and approached multiple bears. Viewers watching the park’s live bear cam saw a man wade into the water below the falls and take a selfie in front of a group of grizzlies lunging for salmon.

Multiple bear cam viewers and visitors expressed concern to park rangers about the violation. Park rangers then contacted the three visitors, and charges are currently pending.

It’s illegal in Katmai National Park and Preserve to come within 50 yards of a bear while it’s using a “concentrated food source,” like migrating or spawning salmon. The park service closes the area around Brooks Falls from June 15 to Aug. 15 to reduce negative bear-human interactions and to allow bears stocking up on salmon ahead of winter hibernation to eat in peace.

Park spokesperson Anela Ramos wrote in an email that the incident at the falls is an isolated one. All visitors to Brooks Camp are required to attend a bear orientation where they learn distance regulations, what to do in a close encounter and how to manage food.

“Most people are good stewards of the park and the bears, trying their best to follow the rules,” Ramos wrote.

However, bear encounters do happen. She wrote that sometimes photographers and anglers do get too close to bears on other, less managed parts of the river.

“It’s challenging not to get close, when there is limited exit and mobility when wading a rushing river,” Ramos wrote. “Rangers patrol the river to prevent these encounters, but the rangers can’t be everywhere.”

Visitors can view bears at a safe distance from elevated platforms at Brooks Camp.

Once charges are finalized, the park service will release details about the visitors’ identities. No visitors or bears were injured.

Erin McKinstry is Alaska Public Media's 2018 summer intern. She has an M.A. from the University of Missouri's School of Journalism and a B.A. from Knox College. She's reported stories for The Trace, The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, Harvest Public Media, the IRE Radio Podcast, KBIA and The Columbia Missourian.

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