Human-wildlife conflicts are a reality of life in places where population centers mix with the natural world. Dan Egolf, who has spent a lifetime in the wilderness around Haines, envisions a future where it doesn’t have to be that way. In 1985, Egolf cofounded Alaska Nature Tours, which became one of the first ecotourism companies to form partnerships with cruise lines traveling the Inside Passage. Hardly any bears were sighted during the first few years the company was running tours along the Chilkoot River. Decades later, bears are a staple of Alaska Nature Tours trips, and there are many more visitors and recreationists using the same area. Crowding of people and bears led to situations ripe for conflict. To help better manage those interactions, several Haines residents, including Egolf, launched Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation.
The nonprofit works to create a viable space for ecotourists, Haines residents, and the region’s brown bears. Since its inception in 2009, the foundation has spearheaded multiple initiatives with that aim, including securing funding for safety infrastructure at designated bear viewing areas along the Chilkoot, purchasing public bear-proof trash cans for the Haines Borough, and buying an electric fence to be installed around the Haines Community Garden.
There’s still work to do. In 2020, grizzly problems were rampant in the Haines area. Though Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation took a hiatus at the onset of COVID, Egolf says they’re hitting the ground running this year with more goals to reduce human-caused bear attractants.
Egolf’s work at Alaska Nature Tours and with the foundation is focused on wildlife conservation. “I think there’s a point to be reached where wildlife and humans can coexist, and we’re hoping to find that in Haines,” he said.