Looming government shutdown could put Fat Bear Week on pause

a bear
Large and hungry: 747, the reigning Fat Bear Week champion, is one of the most dominant males on the Brooks River. (Felicia Jimenez/NPS photo)

Last October, Alaskans and other viewers around the world hunkered down on Katmai National Park and Preserve’s website to witness 2022 victor Bear 747 and his competitors pack on weight during the park’s Fat Bear Week.

But this year, with a federal government shutdown potentially going into effect over the weekend, 747 may not even leave the gate.

Park spokeswoman Cynthia Hernandez said in an email Friday that a lapse in government funding during the shutdown would affect next week’s annual event, which drew more than a million views last year as people watched the park’s brown bears fatten up for hibernation.

brown bears
Two bears vying for a prime fishing spot near Brooks Falls. (Brian Venua/KMXT)

“Hopefully a lapse doesn’t occur,” Hernandez said. “However, should a lapse happen, we will need to postpone Fat Bear Week.”

According to NPR, a previous shutdown in 2018 left the National Park Service down to essential staff – which didn’t include staffers who operated social media.

The Katmai event relies on web cameras operated by Park Service partner explore.org. But Hernandez said they “will not operate Fat Bear Week since the NPS is necessary for Fat Bear Week’s success.”

“(S)hould there be extended lapse in government funding we will need to further evaluate plans depending on how long it takes for Congress to fund parks,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez declined to answer further questions Friday about the potential shutdown. Posts to the park’s social media accounts Friday morning were still providing updates on the Fat Bear Junior competition, a precursor to Fat Bear Week tracking four brown bear cubs.

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Chris Klint is a web producer and breaking news reporter at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at cklint@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Chris here.

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