The annual “Fat Bear Week” contest held by Alaska’s Katmai National Park and operated with the nature documentary network Explore.org could be postponed or canceled in the event of a government shutdown.
The contest involves the public watching Explore.org-operated live stream cameras in the park and seeing the brown bears there fattening themselves up for winter hibernation, mainly by eating salmon swimming upstream to spawn.
An NCAA March Madness-style bracket is set up, with bears advancing through the rounds based on how many votes they get from viewers, who decide which bear is the fattest. The bracket was scheduled to be released Monday, with voting for this year’s contest supposed to start on Wednesday and run until Oct. 10.
On Friday, the Department of the Interior said that “in the event of a lapse in annual government appropriations, National Park Service (NPS) sites will be closed. … At NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed.”
If a funding bill is not passed on Saturday before midnight, the government shutdown will begin Sunday.
While Explore.org’s live stream cameras will be able to continue operating, park rangers will not be able to be involved, which will impact the running of the contest.
Depending on how long a potential shutdown lasts, the contest could be postponed or outright canceled.
“The bears will continue to get fat. We will not be able to report on their progress in that regard. All of our websites will be unavailable during any period of lapse and that is another unfortunate consequence of the shutdown. … Unfortunately, the folks monitoring the website aren’t exempted from appropriations,” an unnamed senior official in the Biden administration told CNN.
The contest is planned to coincide with the peak of bears showing up in the park during the salmon spawn.
“This is definitely the time of year when bears have reached ‘peak fat’ as I like to call it. … The bears and salmon of Katmai don’t care about Fat Bear Week or our petty political squabbles,” Mike Fitz, a naturalist with Explore.org and a former Katmai park ranger, told the Wall Street Journal.
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