The Bears Of Hyder

Reporter's Notebook: When CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone ventured to Alaska for the CBS Evening News, he filed this report exclusively for CBS' Web site.
In the Alaskan wilderness, no predator is more feared and respected than the grizzly.

Covering stories in Alaska over the years, I have had several opportunities to view grizzly bears in the wild, but I have never seen anything like the bears that visit Hyder, Alaska.

I have learned that around grizzlies, it's a good thing to stay at a safe distance. But hundreds of tourists in Hyder get uncomfortably close to grizzlies every day.

John Blackstone
The bears come for the salmon swimming up Fish Creek just outside Hyder. The tourists line up along the creek to watch the bears as they fish, and it's an impressive demonstration.

The bears move fast, and with great agility, grabbing huge salmon in their jaws.

Just a few yards away, tourists on the bank snap pictures and shoot home video with nowhere to run if one of the bears decides to chase people instead of salmon.

Fish Creek runs through the Tongass National Forest. Until recently only a few locals from the little town of Hyder nearby came to watch the bears, but then word began to get out and the crowd began growing.

Now it's up to a few forest rangers, armed with bear repellent and shotguns, to try to keep the bears and the people apart.

So far there have been no clashes between bears and humans at Fish Creek, but there's growing discussion about finding some way to control the humans.

One model is the Bear Observatory at the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, run by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Entrance to the McNeil River is strictly limited to 10 people every four days during the bear viewing season from June to September.

Opportunities to view bears at McNeil River are awarded by lottery, and there are stories of people who have entered the lottery for 10 years without success.

But those who do make it to the observatory see what has been called the largest gathering of bears in the world. Two years ago, 70 bears were counted fishing at McNeil Falls at the same time.

But now anyone can go to McNeil River via the Internet. During bear viewing season, there is now an online BearCam at www.seemorebears.com where anyone around the world can watch the McNeil River bears in action, from an extremely safe distance.

(Editor's note: The bears are in hibernation so you can't see them on live the BearCam now, but the Web site also has a video gallery with lots of footage from the summer.)

Read " Dangerous Wilderness" for Blackstone's report on what happens when man and nature come dangerously close.


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Written by John Blackstone
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