The increasing popularity of brown bear (Ursus arctos) viewing at Brooks River in Katmai National Park, Alaska has resulted in overcrowded facilities, increasing bear-human conflicts, displacement of bears from important habitats, and degradation of cultural resources. To partially address these issues, the National Park Service (NPS) constructed a 300-m-long elevated boardwalk with interconnected viewing platforms in August 2000. To determine what effects the new structures might have on individual bears, we observed bear movements and behaviors before and after construction. We used direct observations and motion-detection cameras to construct temporal-spatial profiles of bear activity. Although bear numbers were similar (59 bears in 2000 and 56 bears in 2001) and bear activity within the greater Brooks River area did not differ (P = 0.62, n = 29) between the 2 years of this study, trail crossings in the vicinity of the new structures decreased 78% (7,436 crossings in 2000 and 1,646 crossings in 2001; ??2 = 762, df = 14, P < 0.001). Bear temporal use of the boardwalk area changed such that when human use was highest, bear use was proportionally lower in the post- versus pre-construction phase (??2 = 34, df = 3, P < 0.005). Of 123 direct observations of bears approaching to pass beneath the structures, only 19.5% rerouted or avoided crossing under the structures. Bears' responses to the new structures were influenced by the behavior of visitors upon the structures. Potential management tools to minimize impacts of these structures on bears include enhanced public education regarding visitor conduct on the boardwalk, as well as visitor management and monitoring.
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Brown bear response to elevated viewing structures at Brooks River, Alaska