‘Nature’ Series Investigates Alaska’s Bears

Steve Heimel, APRN – Anchorage

Public television’s “Nature” series is running a set of three shows featuring Alaska’s bears – Polar, Brown and Black.  “Bears of the Last Frontier” follows Seattle ecologist Chris Morgan to Kaktovik, Denali Park, the Noatak, Katmai, the Dalton Highway, and Anchorage as he seeks out the animals in their habitat.  Cinematographer Joe Pontecorvo says the series is part of a larger effort to create a documentary about bears and their habitats all over the world, called “Bear Trek.”

Some might consider it strange to use a motorcycle to explore bear country.  The cameraman says initially he, too, had his doubts.

For the road portion of the series, Morgan used his motorcycle, and the rest of the crew used a van.  Of course, much of their shooting was done in remote areas far beyond the reach of anything but aircraft.  It took a year and a half to shoot the material used in the series, including one whole summer spent in Anchorage following Fish and Game biologists Rick Sinnott and Jessie Coltrane as they responded to bear incidents in the city.

The crew also spent a lot of time in some of the same remote bays of Katmai National Park that were frequented by Timothy Treadwell, who was killed there along with his girlfriend by a Brown bear in 2003.  Treadwell, too, filmed himself getting close to bears, and then showed his videos to the public.  Viewers of their public television series have been quick to make comparisons, but Pontecorvo says Chris Morgan’s approach is entirely different from Treadwell’s.

Pontecorvo says it’s a point of pride with Chris Morgan that he has never had to use his flares or his pepper spray, though other crew members have.

The first of the three-part series ran last week and concentrates on Katmai Brown bears.  The next episode is on the road and deals with Black and Brown bears. And the third episode deals with arctic bears – Brown and Polar – as well as wolves and caribou.

Pontecorvo says they wanted to portray both the bears and their habitat.  The re-introduction of predators to Yellowstone National Park has shown the world that predators are a key part of a healthy ecosystem.

“Bears of the Last Frontier” runs on PBS’s “Nature” series on Sundays.

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