The Chilkoot Bear Foundation has recruited volunteers to watch behavior along the Chilkoot River in the absence of a state bear monitor.
The state Division of Parks on Sunday interviewed applicants for the job, but bear foundation president Pam Randles said lack of a monitor to date has created “chaos” along the river this summer.
Randles said one person put a fish carcass under a tree branch in an apparent attempt to “bait” a bear for a closer encounter.
“It’s a zoo out there this year and part of the reason is we haven’t had a bear monitor. The reality is people don’t have any idea what’s appropriate behavior in bear country,” Randles said.
Bears have learned to steal fish from anglers, to scrounge the shoreline for discarded carcasses, to search vehicles for fish and to ignore air horns, she said.
People don’t understand bears can become habituated to human sources of food after a single incident, she said. “People don’t understand that if they’re fishing and a bear takes their fish, they’re at fault.”
She said she was particularly concerned about a juvenile bear that has learned to find fish carcasses discarded by anglers.
Park ranger Preston Kroes this week said he expects to have a bear monitor at work within two weeks.
Kroes disagreed with Randles’ assessment of recent behavior in the corridor. He reserved comment on the foundation’s new volunteer program, he said, because he hasn’t spoken to the foundation about it.
“I don’t think the people behavior out there is anything new or anything different than in any years past,” Kroes said.
Kroes said he recognizes there’s been a problem with anglers recently surrendering fish to bears and issues with one juvenile bear that’s capitalizing on carcasses. “That young bear would probably be doing the same activity no matter what. It takes a chance when it gets it.”
Randles said foundation volunteers, who will wear bear foundation hats and shirts, will watch people, relay information to authorities and distribute educational information, Randles said. “Any citizen who sees anything out there can report it. We’re not looking to make trouble for people but if people are in violation, we would document that.”
The volunteers will also receive training from state wildlife trooper Ken VanSpronsen, she said.
Volunteers already are working informally, helping people understand best practices and the law, she said.
Three, first-year cubs recently were spotted along the river without a sow. They are not believed to be the same three cubs of a sow killed last week at Letnikof, as one bear from that trio was put down recently by troopers, VanSpronsen said.