Katmai National Park moves to permit bear viewing for the first time

A brown bear snags a salmon in the Brooks River at Katmai National Park. (Isabelle Ross/KDLG)

Proposed changes to Katmai National Park will affect how visitors navigate the grounds of the Brooks River Corridor, a popular spot for observing bears.

The park wants to establish permits to allow folks to use the river corridor. With visitation at an all-time high, Park Superintendent Mark Sturm said they want to insure all park goers are safe. If the permitting doesn’t improve safety in the park, parts of the corridor could be closed to the public. 

“We got a lot of people walking around,” Sturm said. “Some of whom have decades of experience walking and doing things like fishing among the bears. But there has been a noticeable increase in folks who are somewhat novice on how to behave and access bear country. We see them putting themselves in dangerous situations.”

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For example, inexperienced fishing in the corridor has led to bears snagging angled fish from lines. Sturm said this can result in bears getting too close to park visitors.

“We don’t need bears that are attracted to that type of activity.” Sturm said. “It would cause us to have to take action and manage those bears. By manage I mean likely lethally manage if they have a learned behavior that would cause them to come into close proximity to people. We don’t want to do that. We’re trying to avoid that.”

This will be the first time Katmai would require permits to access the corridor. Presently, visitors attend an orientation and are advised to stay about 50 feet away from bear habitat.

Other changes will allow the use of e-bikes in the park, and extend vehicle parking at Lake Camp from 72 hours to 14 days.

A public meeting will be held at Katmai National Park headquarters in King Salmon on February 14. People can submit comments to the park through February 15 online or by mail.