By Sarah Aslam
The Forest Service is bulking up how many permits it issues to the Anan Wildlife Observatory near Wrangell in order to allow as many visitors to the site as people and bears can handle, while also protecting the habitat.
And it has a mid-March start date for a contractor to tear down the existing observatory to put up a new one in time for the July 5 to Aug. 25 viewing season.
The current limit is 60 permits a day during the season, District Recreation Staff Officer Tory Houser said Friday. That was implemented back in 2003.
“So many people loved Anan and were bringing clients there, that it exceeded our management,” she said.
So, the permit limit was put in place. The Forest Service gave out 60%, or 36 out of the 60 daily permits, in a competitive process to guide companies that applied.
The Forest Service said it has consistently fallen short of the maximum visitors the site is permitted to handle.
“From the 20 years since that happened, we’ve been monitoring the use,” Houser said. “Of the 40% (of available permits) that the guides didn’t officially have, we have allowed people to choose to use an outfitter guide if they wanted to. We have observed that 85% of people want to go to Anan with a guide.”
Even with the option for individuals to get a permit and then go find a guide, there were openings. “We have also observed we never make our capacity of 60 (visitors) per day. Based on our own management strategy, and the weather, and the ability of the guides, we are always coming short. We really want to bring people. We are making a decision to give 100% of those 60 permits a day to commercial groups.”
As an “overbook strategy” to ensure no unused slots at the popular bear viewing site, similar to airlines that bet on some passengers not showing up, the Forest Service has made available 12 permits per day that can be booked on recreation.gov for people who want to get to Anan on their own, without needing a commercial guide.
“The assumption is, on most days, not all of those 60-plus-12 permits are going to be used,” Houser said. “There is going to be weather, cruise boats won’t show, whatever it is.”
The hope is that overbooking will allow the site to reach capacity over the season.
And now that all 60 daily permits are going toward commercial guides — not counting the self-guided 12 openings each day — the agency is providing an opportunity for existing Forest Service-approved operators to gain more service days, and to allow new competitors to compete and be part of the Anan guide services.
The application period opened March 1, at bit.ly/3sBoK6i, and will accept proposals until 4:30 p.m. April 14.
Houser was part of a scouting trip to Anan last Thursday, making sure the site is ready to go for Rainforest Contracting out of Petersburg, which entered into a $989,800 contract with the Forest Service last June to tear down and build a new observation deck. The current one has reached the end of its usable life. The contract expires Dec. 31 and covers demolition of the existing observatory deck, construction of a new upper viewing deck, a new shelter with a toilet, new ramp access, a reroute of the access trail, and temporary connector staircase.
There’s about a foot of snow on the open part of the deck, and some trees have fallen across the trail.
“We have to cut those down for the contractor to get in and out,” Houser said.
Rainforest Contracting is scheduled to start work March 14.
Houser said she is “terrified and excited. It’s just such a huge project. I want it to go really well.”