The Haines Borough Assembly approved funding for a bear monitor in the Chilkoot River Corridor this summer. The borough will collaborate with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and local agencies for the seasonal staff member.
Summer in Southeast means the start of the tourist, fishing and bear seasons. And those three things don’t exactly mix well. The congestion on the Chilkoot River last year sparked concern with some human-bear encounters that were too close for comfort. Last season, the area was without a bear monitor. The borough on Tuesday agreed to put up $7,000 in FY16 and $7,000 in FY17 for the four-month position.
Dan Egolf is a tour operator and a board member of the Chilkoot Bear Foundation. He was one of a handful to speak out at Tuesday’s meeting in favor of the monitor.
“I volunteered as the bear monitor on Canada Day last summer when I saw probably the worst human-bear situations probably ever out there,” he said. “The people all want to do what’s right, but not everybody knows.”
Egolf said signs and regulations are good, but having a person out there regularly is the only way to change people’s behavior around the bruins.
“The actual bear monitor … has been successful whenever we have one, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to get Parks to always do that.”
Last year, without a full-time monitor and no Wildlife Trooper, anglers and photographers crammed along the bridge and shoreline to get better access. That resulted in a flurry of concerns about the potential for a mauling.
Pam Randles is the board president of the Bear Foundation. She also asked the assembly to go forward with some financial support for the position. The Chilkoot Bear Foundation is ponying up about $2,000 for the cause.
“And now is an opportunity to collaborate among the various stakeholders to try and raise the funds locally and get that staff person out there,” Randles said. “We know everyone is experiencing budget reductions so what we’re trying to do here is put our money where our mouth is.”
Tourism Director Leslie Ross told the assembly the money would come out of the tourism budget, which has a little extra in its account.
“Although we’re looking at funding, and I’m agreeing to look at funding coming from tourism, I think it’s important to note that this investment is for more than just monitoring tourism. It’s for monitoring the area, it’s for residents, it’s for the road…”
Ross said the hire would be immediate so the new employee would begin just in time for the busy part of the tourist season. The position runs from June through September.
For the most part, the assembly was in favor of the idea. Here’s Assemblywoman Diana Lapham.
“I believe the borough needs to step up and be the backstop for this. We’ve got a high-use area, we’re intermingling with wildlife, dangerous wildlife, and we can’t afford to wait for an accident to happen.”
George Campbell, who phoned in for the fourth consecutive meeting, moved to add a one-dollar-per-tourist fee at Chilkoot to help pay for the monitor. The amendment failed to get a second.
“If the tour operators aren’t willing to put that kind of money, a one-dollar-per-person, into this, they don’t want this very badly,” Campbell said. “They just want the borough to pay for it.”
Campbell was the only no-vote on the resolution.
The assembly also approved a resolution to help with a grant application for the Chilkat Valley Preschool and its quest to move into an expanded Haines Senior Center. Tune into KHNS later this week for more on that and other meeting highlights.