A Dangerous Wilderness

It is one of the most beautiful places in America: Alaska. Amid the wonder and wilderness, there is a perspective on nature you can't get anywhere else on the continent.

CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone describes a spot where man and nature come dangerously close.

Like many places in Alaska, the little town of Hyder, population 100, is well off the beaten track. At least it was until camera-toting tourists from around the world discovered its secret.

"I just watch in awe. Really I think it's magnificent, absolutely beautiful," says one visitor.

Hyder is a wonderful place to catch salmon, especially if you're a bear.

"There was a raven over there. There was a grizzly bear there and two eagles on a sandbar, and it's Alaska personified," says one observer.

It may be Alaska personified, but with the constant click and whir of cameras, a grizzly stalking a salmon may as well be a movie star stalked by the paparazzi.

Tourists often seem to forget they're not in some zoo or theme park. But in a national forest, with no fences between them and a deadly predator, it's up to a few rangers to try to keep the grizzlies and the people apart.

"You're already too close wherever you are around here; you're already too close to a bear," says Debbie Kocinski of the U.S. Forest Service.

Ranger Kocinski, armed with pepper spray and a gun, worries as much about the bears as she does about the tourists. If there's trouble, it's the bear that could be shot.

"We have a lot of bears, but they're not expendable, you know. We need to keep our bears, and we need to keep our bears wild," she says.

So Kocinski tries to keep the people from tempting the bears into trouble.

"Excuse me. Are you cooking? There's no cooking on the site," Kocinski warns. "If we can smell it, the bears can certainly smell it."

In other places in Alaska, bear viewing, always potentially dangerous, is tightly controlled.

In Denali National Park, professional wildlife photographers know the rule: Stay close to your vehicle with the door open. Even there grizzlies are most likely to be seen through a long lens.

Grizzly bears are the masters of Alaska's wilderness. But generally they prefer to stay well away from people. And in most of the state, getting even this close is unusual but now some of Alaska's most famous grizzlies are as close as the World Wide Web.

The celebrated bears of McNeil Rier are now on the Internet. But the fuzzy first attempt at live bear viewing from an extremely safe distance still comes nowhere close to what's available at Hyder.

Although no one has been injured yet, many in Hyder are wondering: Can bears and people continue to coexist peacefully here? Or might one of the powerful stars of this show one day get fed up with the paparazzi.

Read John Blackstone's first-person account of his adventure in Alaska written exclusively for the CBS Web site.
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