Authorities step up efforts to separate tourists from bears in Haines, Alaska

Sue Folletti owns an inn overlooking the Chilkoot River and says she's seen some questionable bear-viewing over the years. 'It runs about as close to stupidity as I can come to.'

Tourist behaviour 'runs about as close to stupidity as I can come to,' says local innkeeper

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      At the Chilkoot River near Haines, Alaska, it's not uncommon to see people fishing, tourists taking photos and grizzly bears all standing in close proximity. 

      Sue Folletti has seen people get a little too close.

      "When the fish run heavier, there's a lot of traffic. A lot of people want to see the bears when they're showing," she says.

      Folletti owns an inn overlooking the river and says she's seen some questionable bear-viewing over the years. Once someone walked between a bear and its cubs to take photos.

      "It runs about as close to stupidity as I can come to," she says.

      "I feel like people don't pay attention to many safety measures. Many people get way too close. There are bear monitors out there but a lot of times people won't listen to them. It gets dangerous every once in a while but nobody's been hurt, yet."

      Tourists crowd to see the wildlife. A narrow corridor near Haines, Alaska, is often busy during the tourism season, especially when the salmon are running. (Claudiane Samson / Radio-Canada)

      The borough of Haines is trying to address the problem.

      Leslie Ross, tourism director with the Haines Convention and Visitor Bureau says the borough has hired someone to help with bear safety. The measure is partly a reaction to state budget cuts, which have meant fewer Park Rangers in the area.

      "The Haines borough has funded an additional person to be at the Chilkoot, just to help monitor these conditions and to make sure people aren't getting too close, that people aren't parking in the wrong areas," she says.

      Ross says so far the grizzlies haven't shown signs of aggression, as they seem to be focused on finding fish. However the presence of visitors is a concern. 

      "It's probably the most accessible bear-viewing area anywhere in Alaska. You can just drive up and watch a bear feeding in the river, so there's constantly concerns and efforts to make sure that visitors aren't getting too close to the bears," says Ross.

      New bear-viewing platforms could be built as early as this fall or next spring.

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