LIVING WITH BEARS
If humans have any real desire to coexist with bears then we have to admit that they will never change. If we want to live alongside them we will have to be the ones to raise a white flag, yield territory, and change our lifestyles in some way that they find more tolerable.
The life of Bear Technicians is full of bluff charges and adrenaline. The daily drama of chasing bears makes for an easy edge of the seat story that should matter to those of us who pay for, and feel collective ownership of, our National Parks.
Many of the bears in Katmai National Park, where these images were taken, are habituated to humans and difficult to haze away from housing areas. This catalyzes a ratcheting up of already high stakes as the bear techs try to haze the most stubborn bears, perhaps temping tragedy.
Regardless, the hope is to preserve wild bears, not to domestic them. This pushes the bear techs toward regulating and modifying human behaviors instead and leads to the deeper questions at the heart of this story. Can we accept that, at this point, a real bear-human truce will require more sacrifice from us than from them?
The real job of a Bear Tech is, in a way, to craft a new kind of human lifestyle that is more balanced and that is at least sustainable enough to allow for coexistence with bears. They develop and enforce regulations on human behaviors. They control where humans can hike, drive, have food, store garbage and more, all in the hopes of creating a society that sustainably hosts both humans and bears.
I have worked seasonally in National Parks for more than a decade, never as a bear tech, but often alongside them. In 2016 I worked in Katmai National Park and was able to photograph the bear techs in my off-hours. With your help, I will document the work of Bear Techs around the country as they attempt to forge a truce between humans and bears. To start, I plan to follow bear techs in Yosemite, where bears have learned to break into cars. I also hope to return to Katmai to finish photographing the most extreme examples of human lifestyle modification to coexist with bears.
Please contact Daniel Lombardi with any questions, suggestions or comments regarding this story.
Currently in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.