Fortress of the Bear

Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear is, perhaps, one of the most innovative recycling project I’m aware of.  The Alaska Pulp Company mill closed in 1993 leaving behind two huge clarifier tanks that were part of its waste control system.   They are now the heart of a bear rescue center.  The Fortress of the Bear takes orphaned bruins that would normally be shot by Fish and Game and it gives them new life in a setting where they can live and where humans can learn from them.   For instance, when manufacturers wanted to test bear proof garbage cans they sent them here.  The staff filled them with good things and set them out.  In one case a bear got in within 30 seconds.  I would have liked to have seen that.

The center has sent rescued bears to zoos around the country and currently has three black bears (one orphaned in Juneau and two in Seward, there are no black bears on our island) and two sibling groups of brown bears.  The center does not rehabilitate bears to be re-introduced to the wild.  Alaska does not allow that although other states do.  I wonder if a bear rescued by humans would want to hang around humans becoming a problem bear.

These bears are not a problem.  A visit to the fortress is good fun, especially since Ravens and Eagles lurk in the trees, perch on the tank rims and soar over the bears waiting for feeding time.

Currently the bears are mostly being fed greens (in this case lettuce.)  It is too early for the salmon run and the bears, at this point in early July, would be eating greens.  As the summer progresses the feed begins to contain more protein, fish, meet and, at times, dog food.  This is because the bears need to bulk up before hibernation.  Apparently these bears do a better job of hibernation than the bear that lurks in our neighborhood staking out our garbage can.  We had our bear most of the winter.

We watched the bear keepers throw lettuce to the bears, and then they got a special treat as bits of chicken and some bones with marrow were tossed out to the bears.  The eagles and ravens got very loud.  There was a lot of swooping and diving, with some eagles scoring a bit of chicken.  A triumphant eagle swooped over three brown bears looking up.

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