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Katmai National Park staff take part in 'Great Migration'

May 19th, 2017 | Lawrence Hamilton, The Bristol Bay Times-Dutch Harbor Fisherman Print this article   Email this article  

A great migration is happening at Katmai National Park and Preserve, but this time it is not wildlife on the move, but staff.

About 20 seasonal park rangers from around the world have arrived at Katmai in the past couple of weeks and commenced training to gear up for the tourist season which kicks off in earnest in June.

To support the influx of staff, there is also an annual transportation of five months' worth of equipment to the park by float plane and boat.

While this migration of staff is not new, this season will mark a new approach to how rangers interact with the broader public.

"We are transitioning into a new conversational role," said Cathy Bell. She is chief of interpretation and education at the park and is about to spend her first summer season at Katmai.

According to Bell, the old approach was a knowledgeable park ranger giving information to the public. Katmai is now switching to a more interpretative model.

"The new approach involves a lot more dialogue and is more about sharing knowledge," Bell said. "We want to hear from the public and this is the first year we have brought this new questioning technique."

This technique will go beyond giving the public information, and will aim to personalize the experience.

"An example would be asking a person what an important place to them is," Bell said. "That can lead to a conversation and a discussion about why Katmai is important for the animals that live in it."

Bell admitted that this is a pretty big departure from the way things were done in the past.

"Interpretative rangers have to have a pretty diverse skill set," she said. "They need to have a lot of knowledge about a lot of different things to speak well and we put a lot of trust in the people we have talking to the public."

Other programs running in the park this year are tried and tested. For the fifth straight year, is running the popular bear cam. has web cams set up around the world, but the one at Katmai can receive tens of millions of views each season and rivals the ratings of popular TV shows.

"There are not many places you can go and see brown bears and in such large numbers," said park ranger and bear cam expert, David Kopshever. "It becomes kind of a soap opera with all the interactions."

To help the public better understand the bears' activities, Kopshever will be providing running commentary to the bear cam as part of the ranger-led educational programs.

"I will basically be a sports commentator," Kopshever said. "I won't be on the camera but will just have audio and I can tell the audience what is going on and what the bears are doing. Whether they are competing for a fishing sport or looking for a mate. I can explain what is going on."

A further educational program for the public will be more traditional.

"It is more like a formal ranger program," he said. "I will be on camera with myself or another person. Sometimes we will have an expert on and we will get into the nitty gritty of bears and salmon."

Both programs aim to educate the public about the uniqueness of Katmai and Brooks Camp.

"We want to show people why this place is so special and why it matters so much," Kopshever said.

Further afield around Katmai, several scientific studies will be continuing this year.

The Changing Tides project aims to study some of the differences between coastal brown bears and their counterparts inland. For the project, some of the bears have been collared and others mounted with cameras to study how bears interact with their marine food sources.

In another study, biologist Michael Saxton is continuing to examine brown bear genetics. The study aims to try and establish the familial relationships between the bears at Brooks River and other parts of the park.

Brooks Camp will open to tourists on June 1 and at the same time the bear cam will go live.

Until then, it will be a busy few weeks of preparation at the park for Bell and her rangers. "I will be happy to be over there and have all our rangers settled," Bell said.


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