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A Love of Alaska and a Respect for Brown Bears Got Andy Anderson Out of Bed

“My commitment to the outdoors is more than a passion for me; it is what moves me forward, gets me out of bed each day, and what keeps me awake at night.”
Andy Anderson

Over the summer, Andy Anderson traveled to Southwest Alaska to follow the Coastal brown bears, documenting their majesty. Andy has been visiting this part of Alaska for over 30 years. We wanted to learn about what he found there. Here is what he had to say.

First, what is your history with traveling to Alaska? What is the draw for you?

I first went to Alaska in the mid-’80s when stationed at the King Salmon AirForce Base. I spent a full year there, which was a remote assignment. Well, the rest is history because I fell in love with the area. The draw was the vastness and incredible scenery. Never in my life had I seen a place more beautiful than Alaska.

We’ve often talked about you being an avid outdoorsman and shared your previous Alaska imagery many times. This particular trip was in Bristol Bay, along the rivers that feed into it. When was the last time you were there capturing imagery of the Coastal brown bears? Did you see a difference in the bear population and behavior? 

I started taking photos of the brown bears when I first came to Alaska in the ’80s. The bears are numerous on the coastal streams, especially during the annual Pacific salmon runs. The streams have so many fish in them; you can almost walk across the backs of them. There are more bears now than ever. I have heard many reasons why and some of the main ones are climate change, mild winters, and low predation. 

You are a knowledgeable, experienced, and careful wildlife photographer. Do you think it’s safe to say you are also a conservationist? 

Well, I do not think of myself as a wildlife photographer — I do not have the patience. Also, I don’t think of myself as an expert on conservation. With that said, I have traveled to Alaska numerous times and spoken to many experienced commercial fishermen, fishing guides, and local people. Recently there was a fantastic decision to deny the very controversial Pebble Mine. The mine would have devastated the last Pacific salmon in the world. The proposed location would have been at the end of Lake Illiamna, and this location is a huge nursery for salmon smolt. There is also another more dire issue facing these fish — commercial fishing and over-harvesting. Many folks think this could be the demise of the salmon. I agree. 

How has the Treadwell bear attack in 2003 changed how you study and photograph bears in Alaska? Do you use different equipment? How long did it take to get these shots?

The Treadwell incident was a profound display of stupidity and lack of respect for these animals. I could go on, but you get my opinion. I’ve taken these images over the last several years. 

Follow Andy on Instagram for more imagery from a photographer living life committed to the outdoors.