Southeast Alaska’s Chilkoot River Corridor is a popular destination for sport-fishing and bear-viewing. Brown bears forage for Pacific salmon, alongside anglers who do the same with rod and reel. Tourists, locals, and photographers flock to the area to photograph the wildlife and stunning scenery. With five species of salmon, a brown bear population, and a host of recreational opportunities, the Chilkoot River Corridor presents a valuable site for studying the dynamics among salmon, humans, and bears.
This summer, the Great Bear Foundation is launching a research project to monitor how the brown bears use their habitat, and how successful they are at catching fish, in relation to salmon abundance and human activity. What kinds of activities displace bears, or affect their foraging success? Is there a correlation between the abundance of salmon and fishing success? Are some bears more able to tolerate human presence than others? Is there a minimum distance people must keep to avoid impacting the bears? These are all questions our research examines.
The Chilkoot River Monitoring Project builds on existing research by Anthony Crupi. We aim to build a long-term database, building on Crupi’s work, in order to answer management questions, and to better understand the dynamics among salmon, humans, and bears on multiple-use salmon streams.
We are setting up remote-sensor cameras along the river corridor to monitor bear and human activity. Meanwhile, volunteer citizen scientists will record in situ observations, documenting bear presence, fishing success, and human activity. We’ll compare these observations against what the cameras pick up, to determine how well the cameras are monitoring bear and human activity.
We are also monitoring vehicle traffic along the road that runs parallel to the river, using a tubeless vehicle counter from TRAFx Research, Ltd. Vehicle traffic can impact bears’ ability to move between the river and the forest, where they can seek sanctuary from humans and other bears. Some bears become habituated to vehicle traffic, losing their fear of cars, and making them more vulnerable to road-related mortality, while others may avoid roads entirely. Monitoring the vehicle traffic along the Chilkoot River Corridor will help us to learn more about how the use of the road impacts brown bears along the corridor. We thank TRAFx for their generous support of this project.
Additional support for this project comes from the Charlotte Martin Foundation and donations from members of the Great Bear Foundation. Click here to donate to the project. Special thanks to Ian Gill for his work on this project.