This past summer I spent nearly 2 months, while I wasn’t guiding grizzly viewing expeditions for Natural Habitat, guiding a BBC film crew at a series of remote, extended camps on the Alaska Peninsula in the heart of the densest population of coastal grizzlies (or coastal brown bears) in the world. We had no problems or incidents, because we were meticulous with our bear safety techniques. Through using common sense, respect for the bears and the country, and proper equipment, we minimized our impact on the land and the wildlife. Here is a video tour of one of our camps in June:
The basic rule of camping safely in bear country is to eliminate any chance that a bear can access something edible. A bear will always be attracted to a camp, no matter how careful you are, as they have a sense of smell 2000 times greater than us (7 times greater than a bloodhound)! We place all edible items (including garbage and toiletries) in bear proof food containers (known as BRFCs), keep our eating area away from our sleeping area, and enclose both areas in electric fences.
Wildlife cameraman Rolf Steinmann at North Camp in September.
During the filming of this documentary we had very few bears show any interest in our camp, and those that did only needed a few hand claps and stern voice prompts to leave our property alone. If a bear was to begin to cause problems, and was to oblivious to voice and body language, we would use hand flares and/or pepper spray as a last deterrent. I don’t ever carry a gun for bear defense, as I believe that it will only increase your chances for a variety of disasters, and they are simply less effective than flares and spray.
Producer David Marks and cameraman Rolf Steinmann filming wildlife.
Camping in bear country is difficult and expensive, and in the regions that I guide expeditions, it should only be done with locally experienced individuals. Bears are powerful, stubborn, super-intelligent animals that demand a tremendous amount of respect, which is why I love being in their presence so much.
In my mind the bear is among Alaska’s most precious natural resources.
Brad has been a Natural Habitat Expedition Leader since 2005, guiding Alaska grizzly bear tours, Churchill polar bear tours, northern lights expeditions and China panda tours. His specialty is bear biology and ecology of the north country.