katmai bear steps across timbers of tongass bear’s house
Katmai bears live on the mostly treeless Alaska Peninsula. Tongass bears live in old-growth temperate rainforests (metaphorically, the Bear’s House) nearly a week’s sail eastward across the Gulf of Alaska. Mitochondrial DNA shows the two brown bear populations have been isolated since the last Ice Age but they’ve recently become reconnected on another level by the sea and the timber industry.
buck wilde image, katmai coastal bear, canon 7d, canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS
Brown bears (Ursus arctos) are attracted to wide bays on the wilderness coast of Katmai National Park in June. The main draw here is razor clams and starry flounders to fend off starvation until the salmon arrive in July. As tides rise, the bears retreat into saltwater marshes to forage on sedges (Cyperaceae) and goose tongue (Plantago maritime). By the time the tides have peaked, the bears are pushed farther onto higher ground where they forage on pushki (Indian celery, Heracleum maximum) and chocolate lily bulbs (Indian rice, Fritillaria camschatcensis). Rising and falling tidal cycles keep Katmai bears moving back and forth over beachheads curiously littered with driftwood timber.
Ocean currents and surf deposit all kinds of debris from far away places onto the beachheads, mostly plastic water bottles and commercial fishing nets, driftwood timber and more plastic water bottles. In some bays the Gulf of Alaska’s counterclockwise gyre (rotating ocean current) has stacked sawn timbers in piles up to 10 feet high, 100 feet deep and 10 miles long. This Katmai bear is searching for her lost cubs hiding under the big timbers after being frightened by a wolf. The log piles provide vulnerable spring cubs refugia habitat, but at an unseen cost ‘out of sight and out of mind’ to most park visitors.
These vast timber deposits have been carried by the gyre over six hundred miles from barge spills and other timber industry waste associated with Tongass National Forest operations. (Exposure to saltwater and sand has left the massive fir timbers with no commercial value.) Congress passed the Tongass Timber Reform Act in 1990 halting decades of government subsidized waste by the timber industry. By then over half of the old-growth temperate rainforests had been clearcut. Yet 12% of the remaining forest is slated for harvest over the next 10 years and the timber industry has another wasteful plan, one that could destroy even more wild salmon spawning habitat essential for the survival of Tongass bears.
Discover what you can do to protect Tongass National Forest as the timber industry pressures the federal government to drop critical protections of wildlife and watersheds in our national forests. This ruling would apply to our other national forests as well.