August 18, 2011 |

Chilkoot: Crowds, enforcement up

State park ranger Preston Kroes this week said his agency was having "major issues" with bears getting salmon from fishermen along the Chilkoot River.

Some of the incidents involve bears getting fish dropped by retreating fishermen but others he believes are cases of people deliberately feeding the bears. He said he’s received "quite a few" such reports daily.

"It appears to be happening a lot out there and a sow with two cubs (including one hooked through the nose with a fishing lure) seems to be the beneficiary of it most."

Kroes recently brought a $300 citation against a Lower 48 resident who left a cooler full of food at Deer Rock, a riverside landmark in an area of heavy brown bear traffic.

"The bears apparently approached and they left everything – Cheeze Whiz, veggie burgers, hamburgers, peanuts," Kroes said. "Even if you leave a fish behind, it’s still feeding bears."

Fishermen should be taking all their gear, including their tackle boxes and catch and moving up to the road and vehicles" when bears approach, he said.Anglers should take their catch to their cars as soon as they reel it in, he said.

Kroes said he has also given multiple warnings to people viewing bears in recent weeks, including for violating a bear-only zone, parking in the road and not giving bears adequate space.

Crowds along the river Sunday during the Yukon Territory’s "Discovery Days" holiday were the largest he’s ever seen here, Kroes said, and included 33 vehicles around Lutak bridge and 32 parked between a riverside lodge and the state’s salmon weir.

It is illegal to stop along the road and parking is allowed only in pull-offs.

Kroes said he expects the numbers of bears and people to increase in the coming days, with the arrival of the pink salmon run, which are plentiful and easy for bears to catch.

There are seven adult bears and seven cubs, including five two-year-olds, feeding at Chilkoot and he’s anticipating the arrival of at least one more sow, nicknamed "Gimpy," that had three cubs last year, he said.

The Alaska Legislature last spring approved $1 million for a bear-viewing platform aimed at reducing dangerous encounters between bears and visitors to the scenic corridor, but Kroes said he doesn’t expect construction will happen for two or three years.

"We think there should be a bear-viewing platform in some form, but we’re not sure of the location or the type. It’s got to be researched and it’s got to go through the public comment process," Kroes said.

Kroes said he’s been consulting with state biologists about the male cub that has the treble hook of a Pixie lure hooked on its snout. The state is monitoring the matter, which is not a top priority, Kroes said.