Bear Tourism Boosts Native Economies in Southwest Alaska


Southwest Alaska is dwelling to among the most spectacular wildlife on the planet, together with majestic brown bears roaming its forests, and particularly its rivers and coasts, the place they feed on seasonally ample spawning salmon and wealthy vegetation.

Brown bears are one of the vital iconic animals in Alaska, and they are often present in varied areas of the state. Nevertheless, among the greatest locations to see them are within the coastal areas of Southcentral Alaska, the place they’ve entry to ample salmon and vegetation. These areas embody Katmai Nationwide Park & Protect, McNeil River State Recreation Sanctuary, Lake Clark Nationwide Park & Protect, and the Prepare dinner Inlet Area. 

Bears should not solely an emblem of Alaska’s wilderness but in addition a useful asset for the native communities.

In line with a research by the College of Alaska Fairbanks, bear tourism in Southcentral Alaska generated $34.5 million in 2017 and contributed $10 million in direct wages and advantages to the area, supporting 680 jobs. The research targeted on 4 areas: Katmai Nationwide Park & Protect, McNeil River State Recreation Sanctuary, Lake Clark Nationwide Park & Protect, and the Prepare dinner Inlet Area. These areas entice 1000’s of holiday makers to witness the bears fishing for salmon, taking part in with their cubs and interacting with one another. The research estimated that every bear in Southcentral Alaska is value $1.3 million over its lifetime, based mostly on the tourism income it generates.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) helps bear tourism as a method to promote conservation and sustainable improvement in Alaska. WWF works with native companions to guard the habitats and meals sources of the bears, in addition to to coach vacationers and guides on how one can reduce their impression and respect the bears’ pure conduct. WWF additionally advocates for insurance policies that stop dangerous actions similar to mining, logging and oil drilling that threaten the bears’ survival.

Brown bear tourism is a useful supply of revenue and conservation advocacy for the native communities and ecosystems, which have relied largely on subsistence or extractive financial exercise. Bear tourism, managed properly, gives a useful and extra sustainable possibility for the native financial system.

The financial advantages of bear tourism should not solely essential for the human inhabitants but in addition for the bear inhabitants and the ecosystem they depend upon. By creating a requirement for bear viewing, tourism supplies an incentive for shielding the bears and their habitat from threats similar to poaching, mining, logging and local weather change.

Tourism helps elevate consciousness and appreciation for these magnificent creatures amongst guests and locals alike. Within the phrases of an Expedition Chief from Nat Hab’s movie The Bear Coast: “Earlier than you possibly can look after one thing, it’s important to care about it.” Conservation journey builds that type of connection.

The Ecological Significance of Brown Bears

Brown bears should not solely an financial asset for Alaska but in addition an ecological one. They play an important position in sustaining the well being and stability of the ecosystems they inhabit. By feeding on salmon, they switch vitamins from the ocean to the land, fertilizing the soil and enriching the vegetation. Additionally they assist regulate the inhabitants of different animals, similar to moose, caribou and rodents, by preying on them or competing with them for meals.

Threats Going through Brown Bears

Regardless of their financial and ecological worth, brown bears face many threats in Alaska and elsewhere. Probably the most controversial and imminent threats is the proposed Pebble Mine mission, which might be situated close to McNeil River and Lake Iliamna. This mission would contain extracting copper, gold and different minerals from a large open-pit mine, creating tons of poisonous waste that might probably leak into the encompassing watersheds and hurt the salmon and different wildlife that depend upon them.

mother brown bear and cubs Lake Clark National Park

Lake Clark Nationwide Park © Brad Josephs

Mining actions in Southwest Alaska, significantly close to the Bear Coast, McNeil River and Bristol Bay, have been a subject of concern attributable to their potential environmental impacts. Listed here are some key information:

Pebble Mine Risk: The plan to determine a big copper and gold mine within the headwaters of the Bristol Bay salmon fishery poses a major risk to the bears of McNeil River. The related infrastructure might fragment one of the best bear habitat on the planet and reduce off migration routes. The mine might additionally destroy the salmon runs of Bristol Bay, which have supported the peoples and ecosystems of Southwest Alaska for tens of 1000’s of years.

Bristol Bay: Bristol Bay is dwelling to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. The proposed Pebble Mine mission would straight impression this fishery, jeopardizing 1000’s of American jobs, a cultural custom of subsistence, and a sturdy sport-fishing and tourism financial system. Two out of three Alaskans oppose the Pebble Mine and assist protections for Bristol Bay.

Financial Impression: The salmon fisheries of Bristol Bay assist the equal of practically 10,000 full-time jobs and create $1.5 billion in annual financial output.

Environmental Issues: The proposed Pebble Mine mission would entail mining a pit over a mile lengthy, a mile broad, and 657 toes deep, destroying practically 3,500 acres of wetlands, lakes and ponds and 81 miles of salmon streams. This doesn’t embody the 1000’s extra acres that may be fragmented, dewatered and coated with mud from the mine.

Authorized Actions: In January 2023, the U.S. Environmental Safety Company (EPA) issued a remaining resolution to dam the proposed Pebble Mine attributable to considerations about its environmental impression on Bristol Bay’s aquatic ecosystem. Nevertheless, the State of Alaska is looking for to revive the Pebble Mine mission by going on to the Supreme Courtroom.

Mining actions in Southwest Alaska pose imminent hazard. It’s essential to stability financial improvement with the preservation of the area’s distinctive ecosystems and the livelihoods of the native communities.

Many native residents, conservation teams, Indigenous communities and tourism operators—even the US Environmental Safety Company—have opposed such tasks for years, arguing they jeopardize the livelihoods and cultures of people that depend on the pure assets of Southwest Alaska. 

Brown bears face threats from improvement, logging, local weather change and extractive industries such because the Pebble Mine. Conservation efforts are wanted to make sure their survival.

Katmai National Park mother brown bear and cubs Katmai National Park

Katmai Nationwide Park © Brad Josephs

Can brown bears and ecotourism coexist?

Sure! Brown bears and ecotourism can coexist, and there are a number of examples of this world wide. In reality, ecotourism can play a vital position in bear conservation efforts.

  • Bear Viewing: Ecotourism typically entails non-consumptive wildlife viewing, which suggests observing animals of their pure habitats with out inflicting hurt or disturbance.
  • Financial Advantages: Ecotourism can present financial advantages to native communities, creating jobs and producing revenue. This could cut back pressures to take advantage of pure assets, similar to via searching or habitat destruction.
  • Conservation Funding: Income from ecotourism can be utilized to fund conservation efforts, together with these aimed toward defending bear populations and their habitats.
  • Training and Consciousness: Ecotourism also can elevate consciousness amongst vacationers and native communities concerning the significance of bear conservation. This could result in elevated assist for conservation efforts and extra accountable conduct.

Tips for accountable practices have been developed to make sure that ecotourism actions are carried out in a means that minimizes impression on the atmosphere and maximizes advantages for native communities.

Profitable Bear Conservation Efforts

Ecotourism has been instrumental in a number of profitable bear conservation efforts worldwide. Listed here are just a few examples:

Nice Bear Rainforest, British Columbia: In 2009, the federal government of British Columbia introduced a conservation plan for the Nice Bear Rainforest, one of the vital complete of its form in North America. This victory adopted a 10-year marketing campaign and is among the longest in Greenpeace historical past.

Andean Bear, Colombia: The Andean bear, also called the spectacled bear, is South America’s solely bear species and one of the vital iconic mammals of the tropical Andes. As a part of the GROW Colombia mission, scientists are utilizing superior genomics to assist get better the Andean bear and protect Colombia’s biodiversity whereas making an financial and social impression.

Brown Bears, Alaska: In Alaska, ecotourism typically entails non-consumptive wildlife viewing, which incorporates bear viewing. This has grow to be a preferred type of ecotourism in locations like McNeil River State Recreation Sanctuary and Katmai Nationwide Park. These initiatives haven’t solely contributed to the expansion of Alaska’s tourism business but in addition promoted the ideas of sustainability and conservation.

These initiatives spotlight how ecotourism can contribute to bear conservation efforts, benefiting each the native communities and the bears themselves.

Nat Hab travelers photograph brown bears ecotourism bear conservation alaska

© Brad Josephs

How You Can Help Bears & Native Communities

In case you are keen on supporting brown bear tourism in Southwest Alaska, there are a lot of methods you are able to do so. Listed here are some solutions:

  • Donate to or volunteer with organizations that work to guard brown bears and their habitat in Alaska, similar to Mates of McNeil River, Defenders of Wildlife or The Nature Conservancy.
  • Educate your self and others concerning the significance and worth of brown bears and their ecosystem.
  • Communicate up in opposition to tasks or insurance policies that threaten brown bears or their habitat in Alaska or elsewhere.
  • Journey with Nat Hab to one of many locations talked about above and e-book a guided tour with a good operator who follows moral and security tips for bear viewing.
  • Help Native Economies: Wherever you journey, attempt to assist native companies and companies. This not solely supplies financial advantages to the group but in addition typically ends in a extra genuine and enriching journey expertise.
  • Advocate for Sustainable Insurance policies: Use your voice to advocate for insurance policies that promote sustainable tourism. This might contain supporting laws that protects pure and cultural assets or advocating for the rights of native communities.
  • Take part in Conservation Efforts: Many locations provide alternatives for vacationers to take part in conservation efforts. This might contain actions like tree planting, wildlife monitoring or seaside cleanups.
  • Select Sustainable Choices: When planning your travels, select suppliers dedicated to sustainable practices. This might embody eco-friendly accommodations, tour operators that respect native cultures and environments, and transportation choices that reduce carbon emissions.
  • Share your experiences and pictures of brown bear tourism along with your family and friends on social media or different platforms.
travelers view grizzly brown bears in alaska

© Courtroom Whelan

The Mates of McNeil River is a corporation devoted to the preservation of the McNeil River State Recreation Sanctuary and its magnificent brown bears. Their important priorities and actions embody: 

Preservation of the sanctuary’s bears and their habitat: They’re involved about threats similar to improvement, habitat destruction, poorly designed “enhancement” tasks and noise air pollution.

Training: They purpose to coach the general public concerning the bears and their habitat. Guests who’ve been privileged to stroll among the many “people-neutral” bears come away with a brand new understanding of brown bears.

Advocacy: They attempt to have a voice in the way forward for the sanctuary. They fashioned to deal with issues similar to the specter of improvement and habitat destruction.

Addressing Threats: They’re actively concerned in addressing main threats to the bears, such because the proposed Pebble Mine, which might fragment bear habitat, destroy essential denning areas and eradicate the salmon runs of Bristol Bay.

WWF has additionally performed a serious position in defending the brown bears and different wildlife of Bristol Bay by amassing lots of of 1000’s of public feedback from activists on why Pebble Mine is simply too dangerous for the area’s brown bears, salmon and other people.

Each motion counts. By making knowledgeable decisions and advocating for sustainable practices, you possibly can contribute to the worldwide effort to advertise accountable tourism.

Nat Hab Alaska Bear Camp Lake Clark National Park bear conservation ecotourism

© Invoice Gent & Diana Russler

Be part of Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear-Viewing Journeys

Nat Hab has been working bear viewing excursions in Alaska since 1987; itineraries assist native companies and conservation efforts, together with WWF’s Alaska program. Select from a number of choices that cater to completely different preferences and budgets. For instance, you possibly can be a part of a small-group expedition to Katmai Nationwide Park, the place you possibly can watch dozens of bears fishing for salmon on the well-known Brooks Falls. Or you possibly can go for a extra intimate encounter at Lake Clark Nationwide Park, the place you possibly can keep at a distant lodge and observe bears grazing on sedge grasses and digging for clams. 

By selecting bear tourism, you aren’t solely having fun with a once-in-a-lifetime journey, but in addition supporting the financial system and conservation of Southwest Alaska. You’re serving to to protect the wonder and variety of this area for future generations of people and bears alike. Whichever possibility you select, you possibly can make certain that you should have a memorable and significant expertise that can enrich your life and assist defend Alaska’s treasured wildlife.

Brown bear tourism is extra than simply an awe-inspiring exercise; it’s a method to join with nature, assist native communities and contribute to conservation. Brown bear tourism is greater than only a enterprise; it’s a lifestyle for many individuals in Southwest Alaska. It is usually a means of defending one of the vital useful and weak treasures of Alaska: its brown bears.