Alaska’s Admiralty Island is home to an estimated 1800 brown bears, the largest concentration of bears in the world. Nearly 100 miles long and 20 miles wide, it is half the size of Yellowstone National Park, yet it sustains four times more grizzlies. The native Tlingít people call this island “Kootznoowoo,” meaning “Fortress of the Bears.” It is a place where bears depend on fish, fish depend on trees, and the trees depend on fish-eating bears to spread the nitrogen rich bodies of salmon throughout the forest. Everything depends on the annual salmon run. When a change in the weather keeps the salmon from arriving, the entire ecosystem is affected.
A La Niña winter has cooled the water to two degrees below normal, keeping the salmon out of the streams and delaying the run. It’s the worst salmon season in the last 40 years. As the bears wait for the salmon, they hunt and scavenge for anything they can find to supplement their unsatisfying diet of grass. The receding tide offers unique opportunities, and one young bear demonstrates a remarkable talent for clamming. But the feast is short-lived. With the passing season showing no sign of fish, the bears become increasingly gaunt and desperate. Will the salmon finally make their way up the streams of Admiralty Island? And will the bears survive until they do?
Fortress of the Bears enters a world shaped by bears, trees, and salmon, and explores the delicate balance of their interconnected lives.