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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Fat Bear Week is in jeopardy as government shutdown looms

A government shutdown doesn’t just mean a halting of essential services and jobs. It also could come at the cost of one of the nation’s favorite annual events:Fat Bear Week.

The beloved event is a celebration of the brown bears that live along Brooks River in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. After spending months fattening up, the bears are now in their final weeks before hibernation, and the week “highlights the accomplishments of these burly bruins,” officials said.

During Fat Bear Week, park officials, along with explore.org, create a bracket of some of the top bears, allowing people around the world to watch the bears on live cams and vote for their favorite.

The competition is meant to start next week, but if Congress fails to agree on a budget for the next fiscal year before midnight on Sunday, that might not be the case.

“Hopefully a lapse doesn’t occur,” a spokesperson for the National Park Service told CBS News on Friday. “However, should a lapse happen, we will need to postpone Fat Bear Week. … We will need to further evaluate plans depending on how long it takes for Congress to fund parks.”

The spokesperson did not provide further details about what that would entail.

The Department of the Interior said Friday that should there be a shutdown, National Park Service sites “will be closed,” including the parks. The majority of services that remain are those that are deemed “necessary to protect life and property.” Many park employees, including those at Katmai, would be furloughed.

“At NPS sites across the country, gates will be locked, visitor centers will be closed, and thousands of park rangers will be furloughed,” the department said. “Accordingly, the public will be encouraged not to visit sites during the period of lapse in appropriations out of consideration for protection of natural and cultural resources, as well as visitor safety.”

At least two states, Arizona and Utah, have vowed to keep their national parks open if a shutdown occurs, saying that the money will come out of their pockets.

So far, it appears that the threat to Fat Bear Week is ongoing. On Friday, Republicans in the House rejected a bill that would have allowed the government to remain open for a month at reduced spending levels.

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