Update, 12:00 p.m. Friday: The video described in the article below has since been removed by the YouTube user who uploaded it.
"This is Alaska, baby. It's amazing."
So says a man in a video posted Wednesday to YouTube, just a moment after chucking a fish to a brown bear less than 10 feet away. The video, posted by a YouTube user who goes by the name of Waltah, is basically a rundown of what not to do when you encounter a bear in Alaska. On top of that, feeding bears, and a litany of other wildlife in Alaska, is illegal -- and strongly advised against by both wildlife and law enforcement officials.
In the 2-minute video, the man decides to throw one of his leftover fish to a mother bear and her two cubs in what the video description says is American Bay, Alaska.
What happens next is a little unclear, as the video “craps out” for about the last minute of the clip. What is clear, however, is the man's distress over his friend's inability to start the boat up fast enough. Considering the video made it online, clearly the two men in the video made it out alright.
While they might have made it out OK, there's also a high likelihood they broke the law. It's illegal to feed wildlife according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. That sort of feeding can lead to bad habits, according to the department, who notes that a “fed bear is a dead bear.”
Fish and Game and Alaska Wildlife Trooper officials on Thursday echoed that sentiment.
"Feeding bears is not a good idea, the main reason being that those bears will learn very quickly to associate that food with people," said Ryan Scott, an area management wildlife biologist based in Douglas in Southeast Alaska. "They’ll get food-conditioned, they’ll get habituated, they’re going to get comfortable around people."
Scott noted that it's a bad thing for both humans and bears when a bear gets accustomed to people as a source of food -- it may not cause problems for the person or persons feeding the bear, but it's very likely to cause problems for another person who encounters the bear later, or for the bear itself, which may come to be seen as aggressive due to its lack of fear of humans.
"It’s against the law in the state of Alaska," Scott said. "There’s a reason for that law. We see it every year around Alaska, bears get food-conditioned, and we try to keep bears out of trouble." He added that in his region, officials usually encounter at least one incident a year where a person is feeding a bear, though more often than not it's what's known as "negligent" feeding. That means something like leaving trash out in an area that bears are known to frequent.
There's a difference between "negligent" feeding and "intentional" feeding, which is certainly what the video seems to depict.
“This is like the fourth time we’ve fed ‘em too, since we been out here, so they’re kind of like our buddies,” the man behind the camera says at one point in the video.
The law treats such feeding differently as well. According to Capt. Bernard Chastain with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Anchorage, negligent feeding usually merits a citation, "like a traffic ticket." The fine for negligent feeding of game comes to $310.
Intentionally feeding game, though, is a more serious offense, a misdemeanor punishable by up to $10,000 in fines and up to a year in jail. Chastain said that those upper-end sentencings are normally reserved for someone who's feeding game for commercial purposes, like the case of Charlie Vandergaw, who was convicted in 2010 of feeding bears at his homestead west of Anchorage and shot documentaries about the encounters. In 2011, Juneau "bear man" Arnold W. Hanger was ordered to pay $4,000 in fines and perform 80 hours of community service for feeding black bears.
Earlier this summer, a man who was allegedly drunk was mauled after reportedly feeding a bear barbecue meat.
Everything from moose to wolverines fall under the state statute entitled "feeding of game," though bears are the most likely offenders.
"We don’t see it very often with other animals, but we do get it occasionally with moose," Chastain said. "We do get some people who put food out for commercial use, like if they’re doing sightseeing tours."
Chastain said now is an especially important time to get the word out about the dangers of feeding bears, whether intentional or unintentional, as the bruins will begin to move into cities in search of food while their normal food sources dry up as winter approaches. Desperate to fatten up before denning for the winter, bears are more likely to turn to garbage as a possible food source, Chastain said.
"From the law enforcement side of things, it’s definitely a public safety concern," he said.
After the video was shared with Alaska State Troopers, they said they were unable to share any specifics on the video posted by "waltah" and whether or not they had opened an investigation into the matter. Chastain said that a number of factors go into the decision to open an investigation, and each case is different.
"Clearly the video tends to show there’s some kind of violation," he allowed.
Reporter Suzanna Caldwell contributed to this report. Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com