Getting Up Near the Bears of Alaska’s Lake Clark Nationwide Park | Journey

Trying down from the two-story viewing stand, I scanned the meadow beneath and began counting brown bears. After I hit 12, I turned to our information, curious as to what the file was for bears noticed at one time on this very spot. I used to be surprised to listen to the quantity was greater than 70.

It was early June, and I used to be in Alaska’s Lake Clark Nationwide Park and Protect, situated about 120 “air miles” southwest of Anchorage simply throughout Prepare dinner Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula. With greater than 4 million acres, the park has three Nationwide Wild Rivers, the Chilikadrotna, Mulchatna and Tlikakila, coursing by its expanse; two energetic volcanoes, Redoubt and Iliamna, designated as Nationwide Pure Landmarks; and a brown bear inhabitants so dense that researchers as soon as recorded seeing 219 bears when surveying a 54-square-mile coastal space.

In accordance with the Nationwide Park Service, 95 % of U.S. brown bears reside in Alaska. Lake Clark Nationwide Park has each coastal and inland brown bears of the species Ursus arctos horribilis. The coastal bears are usually bigger, since they’ve an abundance of meals like sedges and salmon. By the point they den up every fall, males can weigh greater than 1,000 kilos, with females usually round two-thirds of their dimension. Inland brown bears, typically referred to as “grizzlies,” usually eat a special weight-reduction plan largely consisting of floor squirrels, plant roots, berries, bugs and fish from rivers and lakes, and they’re usually smaller than coastal brown bears.

Getting Up Close to the Bears of Alaska's Lake Clark National Park

Lake Clark Nationwide Park has each coastal and inland brown bears of the species Ursus arctos horribilis.

Court docket Whelan/Pure Habitat Adventures

No roads exist within the park, so guests arrive primarily through non-public aviation, with quite a few air taxi providers out there. Boats may also entry the park, although tough waters make this selection much less standard.

“Getting [to the park] is sophisticated,” says Buck Mangipane, Lake Clark Nationwide Park’s pure useful resource program supervisor. “You’re coping with tides and climate, so it’s not the best place to go to, however individuals definitely do have success getting on the market, and popping out to see the bears, and fish, and different actions which might be frequent on our coast.”

Since it’s difficult to succeed in Lake Clark Nationwide Park, it sees far fewer guests than another Alaskan parks. Whereas Denali Nationwide Park reported greater than 600,000 guests in 2019, and Kenai Fjords noticed greater than 350,000 guests that 12 months, Lake Clark visitation has hovered at a fraction of these numbers, with recreation customer counts in 2017 (the best 12 months recorded) numbering 22,755.

Getting Up Close to the Bears of Alaska's Lake Clark National Park

Guests arrive primarily through non-public aviation.

Court docket Whelan/Pure Habitat Adventures

I journeyed with fellow guests to Pure Habitat Adventures’ Alaska Bear Camp, on Chinitna Bay on the southern finish of the park, through a constitution flight from Homer—a couple of 30-minute journey. We needed to await the fog to elevate earlier than departing, and the pilot needed to time our journey with the tides to make sure we may land on the seaside. Buckling inflatable life jackets round our waists, we climbed into the small aircraft, pulled on our headphones and flew throughout the water, gazing at Iliamna’s steaming vents and glaciers earlier than touchdown on the gravelly seaside in entrance of camp.

Aside from a few miles of trails situated close to park headquarters in Port Alsworth, the park is trail-less. In a single day guests can keep at varied lodging choices on non-public land inside the park. Extremely expert and adventurous guests may additionally select to embark on a primitive backcountry tenting journey, however it’s essential to be absolutely ready for the hazards of the distant, remoted, rugged wilderness. With waterways to ford, rugged terrain, excessive tides and dense bear populations, some might favor to rent knowledgeable information to discover the backcountry. The most effective time to see bears alongside the coast is from late Could till early September.

Getting Up Close to the Bears of Alaska's Lake Clark National Park

Pure Habitat Adventures’ Alaska Bear Camp consists of eight tent cabins on wood platforms encircled by an electrical fence.

Court docket Whelan/Pure Habitat Adventures

Bear Camp is a “glamping” web site with eight cozy, heated tent cabins on wood platforms encircled by an electrical fence. On one facet of the camp is a seaside and tidal mud flats—the place a subset of bears digs for clams and different meals—and behind it’s a salt marsh meadow filled with sedges. These protein-packed grasses are extremely nutritious for bears, making the meadow I used to be overlooking a major spot for them to congregate after rising from hibernation able to calorie-load.

Caprice Stoner, who has managed the camp for 17 seasons, additionally serving as a information, spends a lot time on the camp, she sees particular person bears 12 months after 12 months and will get to know their quirks. This summer season, a feminine bear and her twin cubs have been continuously noticed by some rocks close to a neighboring homestead. Different bears, like one massive dominant male with distinctive battle scars, together with a lacking chunk of ear, most popular to present people a large berth. Stoner typically noticed a younger subadult whose mom just lately despatched him off on his personal.

“He was a little bit bit skittish of something and all people, each different bear that walked up on him within the meadow, so he would run up a tree each single time as a result of he was scared, and he didn’t know his place on this planet,” Stoner says. “He’s studying, and it’s fascinating to see them come up within the society of bears.”

Getting Up Close to the Bears of Alaska's Lake Clark National Park

Observing bears makes it clear that many behaviors and mannerisms are distinctive to people.

Tom Bessette/Pure Habitat Adventures

As Lake Clark’s pure useful resource program supervisor, Mangipane has performed analysis within the park for 20 years. “On condition that bears are a giant draw for our guests and in addition an enormous a part of the ecosystem, our understanding of their inhabitants is actually essential,” he says. His group conducts aerial survey work, counts bears within the sedge meadow and tracks people with radio collars.

“We don’t have knowledge that goes again additional than 2003, however since then, brown bears have elevated at a price of roughly 1.4 % per 12 months,” says Mangipane.

Getting Up Close to the Bears of Alaska's Lake Clark National Park

The most effective time to see bears alongside the coast is from late Could till early September.

Court docket Whelan/Pure Habitat Adventures

When bears congregate in excessive numbers, although meals is plentiful, the bear pecking order is on show. As we stood within the viewing stand, a bigger male and a smaller male got here inside one another’s orbit. There was a feminine close by. We watched because the males interacted, with physique posturing and vocalizations, earlier than the smaller one backed off.

“There’s a hierarchy among the many bears, and so they know what it’s,” Stoner says.

It was mating season once I visited the camp. The bears have been congregating not solely to seek out meals, but in addition to seek out mates, and I noticed many various behaviors. A solo bear is likely to be grazing on some grasses when one other bear would method, typically cautiously at first. The bears would dimension one another up. Typically they’d sniff each other. Different instances, they may lick or wrestle or rise up on their hind legs for a greater view. Vocalizations may very well be heard occasionally. Typically they’d chase one another round, and different instances they’d mate.

Getting Up Close to the Bears of Alaska's Lake Clark National Park

 On one facet of the camp is a seaside and tidal mud flats—the place a subset of bears digs for clams and different meals—and behind it’s a salt marsh meadow filled with sedges.

Court docket Whelan/Pure Habitat Adventures

Researchers proceed to review Lake Clark Nationwide Park and Protect’s bears and ecology: analyzing fecal samples to study bear intestine microbiomes, learning how mercury will get into lake trout, studying about bear pathogens by analyzing blood and serum, and so forth. Whereas the bear inhabitants is wholesome and rising, Mangipane says, local weather change may have an effect on meals assets and their habitat.

“We’re at the moment enterprise a analysis undertaking to establish linkages between ocean currents, clams, sedges, salmon, sea otters and bears, whereas additionally figuring out the methods modifications to those will impression the meals internet,” he says.

In the meantime, Stoner works to assist individuals discover a reference to these animals.

“After I see that twinkle in somebody’s eye—for the primary time that they’ve seen a brown bear—then that’s what offers me the vitality,” she says. “And that makes me know that the bears will reside on even once I’m not round.”

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