Surprisingly, Japan has a problem with brown bears and tourists.
Along the Shiretoko Peninsula on the north edge of Hokkaido, bear populations are increasing, and boat tours to see them have also increased tremendously. A problem has been increasing there where people have been feeding the bears for years from boats, privately and on tours. Enforcement by officials is lax due to lack of funding and the broad expanse of land and sea to cover. So the potential is ripe not only for bear encounters that could (will) become dangerous at some point, but also altering the natural food cycle and health of the bears over generations.
A film crew from a major broadcasting company in Tokyo and Los Angeles hired our tour director Ron for 3 days in June to discuss bear ecology and management at Brooks Falls in Katmai Nat’l Park. Since Brooks is the gold standard of success stories about bear-people management, the company wanted to create a documentary for their weekly children’s TV program. The idea is to educate younger generations in Japan about the 40 year success story of Katmai National Park bear management.
The hope is to change perspectives in Japan and replace the wrong lessons being taught to them by the previous generation. By inspiring young generations, perhaps their political system will generate enough funding for enforcement and better management practices that will be healthier for the bears and possibly avoid negative or dangerous encounters in the future.
From Ron’s experience as a photo guide and previously as an NPS and USFWS ranger in Alaska and other states, he explained ecological theory and current National Park guidelines that have been enforced over the last 30 years. These guidelines have kept this high density recreation destination safe and enjoyable for all while preserving a healthy ecosystem for the bears, salmon, trees and other animals to survive and thrive.
Other states and parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier look to Brooks (and Alaska state-managed McNeil Falls) as the gold standard of interagency cooperation and wildlife management. Not a single bear attack or mauling has occured here since the park was established 40n years ago and the animals and ecosystem were protected! It’s a win-win for all, and the bears seem particularly happy with the arrangement. After all, they have free run throughout the park, and an all-you-can-eat buffet every summer.
Though the TV segment lasted 20 minutes, the clip above is an edited 9-minute version that shows much of the beautiful scenery and bear interactions. You can get a good idea of what to expect if/when you visit there. The entire segment was a simplified explanation that gave young folks a great introduction to ecology, animal relationships and the benefits of watching and wildlife live naturally without human feeding or corrupting their natural cycles.
No subtitles (sorry!)
Q: Why do the French eat snails? A: They don’t like fast food.