A Prince of Wales Island lodge faces criminal charges for feeding bears after an Alaska Wildlife Trooper on a stakeout watched employees toss salmon to the animals as guests looked on from a nearby skiff.
Clover Bay Lodge floats on an anchored barge on the eastern edge of Prince of Wales Island near Cholmondeley Sound, a 15-minute floatplane ride from Ketchikan. The 12-room lodge offers a secluded wilderness experience and guided fishing trips along with amenities like a fireplace lounge and heliport, its website says.
The state on Sept. 12 filed misdemeanor charges for feeding game without a permit against Clover Bay Lodge, along with several fishing-related charges. The state served lodge operator Ryan Morin with court documents on Tuesday.
Morin's wife, Angela Morin, answered the lodge phone last week. She declined to comment, citing the ongoing legal case.
The state's investigation started in early August when Trooper Jeremy Baum, off-duty and deer hunting on the island, spotted what looked like sport fishing violations by lodge employees, according to a sworn affidavit filed at the Craig district courthouse.
Baum got permission for a stakeout when he got back to work at the Ketchikan post, said his supervisor, troopers Sgt. Greg Garcia. The trooper took an unmarked skiff around the island, then camped out for three days and put the lodge under surveillance from forested U.S. Forest Service property about 100 feet off a lodge dock.
On Aug. 8, the trooper said he saw a skiff carrying two employees and a client approaching from the lodge. A black bear waded nearby. A lodge employee threw fish carcasses to it, and the bear grabbed them and headed back to shore. The skiff operator followed the bear along the shore and the employee tossed more fish.
"The bear appeared to be accustom(ed) to being fed, and did not appear to be scared of humans," Baum wrote. One of the employees told the client "they usually have more bears come out."
On Aug. 9, Baum overheard the lodge's manager say it was "feeding time for the bears," according to the affidavit.
A lodge employee whistled and yelled "Hey bears!" as a skiff carrying nine people motored over to see two black bears emerge from the woods, the affidavit says. The bears grabbed and ate fish carcasses thrown to them from about 10 feet away by a lodge employee.
Ryan Morin told Baum the lodge filed for a special permit online a few years ago to do the bear feeding but never got paperwork or a permit back, the trooper wrote.
The trooper said Morin told him the lodge "completely understood the reasoning behind not feeding bears" and that they had been doing it "for a number of years," according to the affidavit.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game would never issue a seasonal permit so tourists can watch bears, said Boyd Porter, area wildlife management biologist in Ketchikan. The state only issues bear baiting permits in the spring for hunters at least a mile from any homes and a quarter mile from a road.
Getting bears used to humans -- and a ready food supply -- only causes more problems when the summer ends and the bears keep coming around, Porter said.
"Food conditioning bears (like) that, when they cut off the feeding at the end of the lodge period ... there's a bunch of recreational cabins a few miles from that site," he said. "They're going to be putting those people at risk."
Fish and Game estimates there are an average of 1½ bears for every square mile on the island, Porter said.
"You can imagine if every lodge started their own feeding station," he said. "It would be crazy."
The lodge was charged with several other misdemeanors including letting fishing clients keep too many halibut and illegally giving 50 to 100 pounds of sport-caught shrimp to guests and paying clients, according to the charging documents.
The lodge also gave clients choice, edible parts of salmon -- the belly from a white king plus belly strips from other kings and silvers -- to use as bait for halibut, the charges say. That's illegal, the state says. Morin told Baum he cuts the bellies off client-caught fish because the guests don't want them, according to the affidavit. He said he didn't know it was illegal to bait hooks with them.
The case against the lodge marks the second court filing involving bear feeding there. In early September Lodge employee Austin Duckworth, 22, of Ketchikan, was issued a court summons for feeding the bears and other sport fishing offenses.
Reach Zaz Hollander at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4317.
By ZAZ HOLLANDER