Government shutdown threatens Fat Bear Week

Published: Sep. 30, 2023 at 12:52 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As the possibility of a government shutdown looms, many programs face difficult decisions. One of these is Alaska’s most beloved popularity contest, the Fat Bear Week.

Every year since 2014, Katmai National Park Rangers have created a celebrity line-up of brown bears, that have been feasting upon Katmai’s rich salmon runs during the summer months, to be entered into the Fat Bear contest.

The contest is a bracket style tournament where individual bears are matched up against each other. Residents then vote for their favorite bear to see which bear will advance to the next round during the week long tournament. In the end one bear will be named the Fat Bear Champion of Katmai for 2023.

While one would think it would be the bear that gained the most weight during the summer to win the contest; that is not always the case. People from all over the world cast their votes for the bear they think should win. There are many fat, fat bears and there are many favorite bears that come back year after year to Brooks Falls in Katmai. It is up to the voters who decide who the winner is.

Last year, the contest drew more than a million votes.

The Fat Bear Junior bracket, with a roster of five chunky candidates, started on Thursday. The winner of the junior bracket will advance to the main Fat Bear bracket. On Monday, Oct. 2 the Fat Bear bracket will be announced at 3 p.m. Alaska Time and the main event Fat Bear Week is set to start on October 4. For more information on Fat Bear Week visit

If the government does shut down, the Fat Bear Week could be postponed. The problem is, Katmai National Park employees are government employees and are the ones who count up and release those votes, which they would not be able to do under a government shutdown.

Cynthia Hernandez, a spokesperson for Katmai National Park, said that “should a lapse happen, we will need to postpone Fat Bear Week.”

The bears, of course, will continue to eat salmon regardless, and keep getting fatter and fatter until it is time to go into hibernation.