July 22, 2024

The government is spending taxpayers’ money like 535 drunken sailors, we’re funding a never-ending war in Eastern Europe, and the president doesn’t know whether he just signed a continuing resolution or an Applebee’s menu.

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But at least, up here in the Great Land, we can still have Fat Bear Week.

Alaska’s most-watched popularity contest, Fat Bear Week involves residents picking their favorite fat brown bear who’s been stocking up for winter by noshing on salmon in Katmai National Park & Preserve. Viewers of the bears online vote in tournament-style brackets for those they want to advance to the next round until a champion is crowned in the weeklong contest.

More than 1 million votes were cast last year.

Problem is, national park employees count and release those votes — and a shutdown won’t allow them to do so because it would trigger a ban on using the park’s official social media accounts for as long as the government is closed.

“Should a lapse happen, we will need to postpone Fat Bear Week,” Cynthia Hernandez, a park spokesperson, said in an email to The Associated Press.

Of course, the lapse didn’t happen – so Fat Bear Week is on!

Katmai National Park, where the Fat Bear Week competition is held, is on the Alaska Peninsula southwest of Anchorage. Like many places in the Great Land, the Alaska Peninsula is not an easy place to get to – you can’t just fly into Anchorage, hop in a rental car and drive there. But the National Park Service has cams set up so folks in the Lower 48 can watch the hungry bruins in action. Alaskan pundit Suzanne Downing recently explained the event:

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The annual weight-guessing contest organized by the National Park Service, Fat Bear Week has gained international notoriety for its playful voting to decide the Alaska grizzly bear that has packed on the most pounds during a summer of feasting on wild Alaska salmon at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.

Viewers take part in an online tournament-style elimination-bracket game, advancing to the next round of voting until a bear is crowned the fattest of them all. Last year, more than a million votes were cast and there was even a scandal around the ballot box having been stuffed.

The celebration of fantastically obese bruins begins Oct. 4 and runs through Oct. 10. Park Service employees count the votes and post them on social media platforms like X and Facebook.

We’re pretty proud of our bears up here, fat or not. Granted much of the country has black bears, and sometimes other pestiferous critters, but aside from Montana and parts of Wyoming and Idaho, we’re the ones with grizzlies – and the coastal browns which are the giants of Kodiak Island and Fat Bear Week fame. But honestly, with a federal government that has run up over 33 trillion in debt, is this really a priority?

I’m of two minds on the whole thing. The minarchist in me is shouting that this is something the government has no business doing, and yes, that’s the louder voice in my head. But a sneaky little background voice is reminding me that the federal government seems to be looking to hurt Alaska at every turn, even over things as picayune as our wood stoves, so what the hell – let us have our fat bears!

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As of now, well, President Biden has either signed a continuing resolution or an auto-shop repair estimate for his Corvette – not that he would know the difference – but word is that the federal government is funded for at least the duration of Fat Bear Week. So, bears of the Katmai, start packing on those pounds! We’ll be rooting for… one of you. As for the federal debt, well, in years to come, we may be glad for the distraction that only fat bears can provide.

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