The response of wild bears to humans in a viewing context depends on a number of factors. Most important is whether the bears in question have had a history of negative experiences with humans. For example, if the coastal bears have not been sport hunted or poached over a period of years, like at McNeil Falls or Brooks River’s Katmai bears. These bears habituated rapidly to the benign presence of people, especially if the people are guided by someone who is sensitive to the behavioral response of bears.
This response is becoming more common among YNP grizzlies near roads despite having no food surplus, like the salmon bears.
In contrast, bears which have been subjected to legal and illegal hunting become exceptionally sensitive to the presence of people and, when given an opportunity to withdraw, will do so. If the presence of people is repeated and intense then we can expect that there will be displacement of bears from those specific habitats. It appears in these cases that the bears are generalizing their negative experiences with people intent on killing them to others who wish them no harm. However, it is totally invalid to draw a general conclusion from these cases. In fact, our research with the bears at Glendale Cove demonstrated the benefits of human presence on bears feeding time budgets. These results were published by Owen Nevin 2003 but were ignored or misunderstood by the BC biologist.
A paper by David Mattson and others (1992) on Yellowstone grizzlies has been cited for evidence of the alleged effects of human habituation leading to food-conditioning and subsequent mortality increase, an inferred outcome. This hypothesis may be correct for food-stressed Yellowstone grizzly bears that become habituated to people, come into camps and other facilities. If they are food-stressed, as many mountain bears populations are (e.g. Banff, Jasper, Waterton, Glacier parks) they are predisposed to become food-conditioned unlike the salmon eating brown bears. No bears in Katmai National Park, Anan Bear Observatory in the Tongass NF, the Chilkoot River near Haines, AK nor at the viewing stands at the Glendale spawning channels in Knight Inlet, British Columbia search out human foods.
It is very important for the conservation and sustainable use of coastal brown bears that misinformed beliefs and negative attitudes toward viewing not be promulgated. It is very clear from all the research on bear viewing and the success of the programs and growth and productivity of the viewed populations that well-managed viewing, especially when guided by experienced operators occurs, that bear viewing can have positive impacts on bears and increase their populations.