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Sunday, November 27, 2022

My First Brown Bear Encounter


In Alaska, there’s an extremely distant and breathtakingly stunning place the place the brown bears collect in mass, the salmon fill the pristine rivers and streams, bald eagles soar excessive above, the sedges develop excessive, and the “land of the midnight solar” shines on what I’d come to know as Bear Camp.

© Kyle Newman / WWF

It began with a quick 45-minute flight to Homer from Anchorage, which is positioned within the conventional homelands of the Dena’ina Athabascan individuals, the place I stay and have the privilege of working alongside a tremendous crew within the US Arctic Program for WWF.

Earlier than I begin, I need to share that rising up in Alaska, in a group that’s accessible solely by airplane, I’ve spent numerous hours exploring the huge tundra, climbing mountains with no particular vacation spot in thoughts, tenting in torrential rain, and have seen wildlife of all styles and sizes; some up shut and others, just like the brown bear – from as far-off as attainable. This is able to all change as soon as I landed at Bear Camp: I used to be about to be up shut and private with the biggest terrestrial mammal in North America – the brown bear.

© Kyle Newman / WWF

As soon as I landed in Homer, it was time to hop on a small, single propeller aircraft to fly excessive over the Iliamna volcano; we had been so shut you might odor the sulfur and see the steam billowing, to Chinitna Bay, which is tucked away in Lake Clark Nationwide Park, in opposition to the backdrop of the Aleutian Vary and I might greatest describe it as akin to stepping again in time.

Touchdown at low tide, on a slim gravel seashore, I rapidly realized that this was going to be in contrast to something I had skilled in all my years in Alaska. First, we had been met on the seashore by the Bear Camp employees, who greeted us with a heat welcome and so they loaded our gear onto a 4-wheeler, as we name them right here, in any other case generally known as an all-terrain automobile or ATV for brief, and it was a fast stroll up the seashore to essentially the most comfy and memorable “tenting” journey of my life.

There it was. Bear Camp. Besides this was in contrast to any camp I had ever seen. Straight in entrance of me, in one of the scenic locations that I had been up to now, sat utterly weatherproof tent-cabins that had been heated and furnished, with precise beds! To my shock, there was extra: scorching showers! Ecological composting bogs! A lined gazebo with comfy chairs and a built-in firepit! Non-public viewing platforms with high-end recognizing scopes for brown bear viewing! This was simply the beginning.

© Kyle Newman / WWF

Upon getting settled into the tent-cabin, that I shared with Jim Sano (World Wildlife Fund’s Vice President for Journey, Tourism and Conservation), who I hadn’t met in individual earlier than this journey, and but after felt like I had identified for years, we headed to the group orientation which was led by the employees. There they supplied a full overview of the camp, the historical past of the realm, and maybe extra importantly, they shared who they had been and related with us in a method that made me really feel relaxed in the midst of a spot that was surrounded by large brown bears. I’d come to belief these extremely educated expedition leaders {and professional} naturalists – which says so much coming from an individual who had averted bears in any respect prices.

Subsequent – it was time to go discover the bears…and it didn’t take lengthy. We made our method by way of the bushes, on a slim path, which was a migratory one utilized by brown bears over many generations, to an elevated viewing platform the place we had been first launched to the bears that we’d spend the subsequent 3 days with. From the platform, throughout an enormous space of sedges, and close to a crystal-clear creek – there they had been: Ursus arctos.

I used to be in awe. As we watched them, roaming and grazing on the sedges, which is a vital meals supply for them after rising from their winter dens because of the excessive protein content material and the shortage of salmon within the early spring, I spotted one thing: whereas they are often harmful in sure circumstances, there’s additionally a really light facet to them and with educated professionals – you possibly can enter the bears’ habitat and have a shared expertise.

© Kyle Newman / WWF

That night, we returned to the comforts of camp, the place we had been met with an exquisite dinner, ready by a high chef with domestically sourced meals. How am I going to return to dehydrated meals and chilly sleeping baggage after this I assumed to myself. The dinner was scrumptious and the corporate memorable; tales had been shared, laughs had, and we rapidly bonded as a bunch. This was the tone for Bear Camp.

The next day, we set out in the hunt for extra brown bears, and little did I do know, that as a bunch, we’d quickly be in shut proximity…and I imply shut. As we rounded a bend within the path, our information main the best way, they all of a sudden motioned for us to cease and get into a bunch, sustaining a low profile and protecting quiet. There it was – 25 toes or much less, barely off the path and laying in a “day mattress”, which is a gap dug into the bottom that the bears use to nap and funky off from the daytime warmth, was the largest bear I had ever seen.

I might see immediately into its eyes, and it might see me. Besides, I didn’t really feel worry, however somewhat a way of calm and curiosity. This was one thing particular and we had been part of it. It was on this second that one thing “clicked” inside me, name it a paradigm shift or change of coronary heart, I all of a sudden realized that brown bears aren’t at all times to be averted or inherently feared – they’re part of the pure world, inseparable from us, and now we have a accountability to inform the story of this particular place, unchanged by time, that they’ve at all times known as dwelling.

The subsequent morning, as we loaded our gear again into the aircraft, stated our good-byes to the employees who took such excellent care of us, and took off – there under, working alongside the shoreline was a feminine brown bear with two cubs: the cycle continues and we’re aside of defending and preserving this stunning place.

© Kyle Newman / WWF

By Kyle Newman, Neighborhood Partnership Chief, World Wildlife Fund – US Arctic Program

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