Safeguarding bears from habituation

Posted: Friday, August 24, 2007

This letter is regarding an article, "A Trip to Bear Country," by Ken Lewis, published in the Aug. 5 Juneau Empire.

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It's always nice to see our local recreation opportunities highlighted in the media. Pack Creek is a special place where visitors from around the world come to view the magnificent Alaska brown bear in a pristine wilderness habitat.

Bears tend to keep their distance from humans because they perceive people as a threat. Nevertheless, the bears at managed bear-viewing areas such as Pack Creek are different: For decades these animals have watched as up to 24 visitors arrive each day to observe them and take their picture.

Most Pack Creek bears have been there since they were cubs, monitoring a daily parade of humans who always behave in the same predictable manner. The bears' tolerance of our presence in their home, however, is tenuous, and a single visitor can upset this balance by not following the rules we have developed over the last 20 years.

Habituation of these bears is a dynamic process, and just one event can easily reverse years of conditioning. That is why Pack Creek is intensely managed, and why rules pertaining to food are strictly enforced.

A primary goal of our staff is to ensure that bears never obtain human food. Food conditioning can result in aggressive behavior, endangering not only those who are careless with their food, but also everyone who comes in contact with that bear in the future.

At Pack Creek, bears do not get human food or garbage, making the area a fine example of how humans and bears can coexist under ideal circumstances.

The community of Juneau as a whole should strive for a similar goal to increase the safety of its citizens and to minimize the number of bears that are destroyed after being condemned as "garbage bears".

Harry Tullis

U.S. Forest Service, Admiralty Island National Monument

Pack Creek crew supervisor


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