An Introduction to our Contributors
We dedicated this article to giving you a better picture of our blog contributors, the employees here at Emerald Air Service, who work to provide you the best, well-rounded, educational bear viewing experience in Katmai National Park. Without further ado, here is our very own naturalist and guide, Lance Bassett.
Lance Bassett—EAS Guide
Background and History
I grew up in a military family with my dad serving in the Navy for 22 years, and just like any military family, we moved every few years. Then, in early 1991, as the “Cold War” was winding down, I too joined the Navy and soon went to my apprenticeship school. After my job training as an Oceanographic Systems Technician Analysist (OTA), my new job took me to my first duty station, Naval Facility (NAVFAC) Argentia, Newfoundland, Canada where I was stationed for three wonderful years (1991–1994) detecting, localizing, and tracking submarines in the Atlantic Ocean Area of Responsibility (AOR). Newfoundland is arguably the moose capital of the world and I found myself, during my off time, looking for and watching moose. I loved being out in the wilderness exploring and camping, and spent hundreds of hours filming, taking pictures, or just sitting while watching moose during the rut, shedding their velvet, calving season, and pretty much all year. It was such an incredible experience.
After my tour in Newfoundland was complete, my next duty station was Commander, Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ) Okinawa, Japan (1994–1996), where I involved in “Special Projects,” enough said.
Completing my tour in Okinawa, I came back to the United States, where I was stationed at Naval Ocean Processing Facility (NOPF) Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, Washington (NASWI) (1997–2000 and 2003–2006) detecting, localizing, and tracking submarines in the Pacific Ocean AOR. I was able to stay on Whidbey Island for the remainder of my career, where I was deployed to numerous parts of the world. I spent over a year on board four different Surveillance Towed Array Sensor System ships (SURTASS) in the western Pacific, conducting Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) operations (2000-2003). Next, during a three-year tour (2007-2010) onboard two different destroyers (DDG-86 and DDG-92) as the Antisubmarine Warfare Leading Chief Petty Officer (ASW LCPO), I deployed to the Persian Gulf with the Abraham Lincoln Battle Group where we were an integral part in the War on Terror by providing “plane guard” duties during the carrier’s flight operations into Afghanistan. In addition, we conducted operations against Somali pirates, supported Freedom of Navigation, oil platform security, and ASW. My secondary duties included Combat Information Center Watch Officer (CICWO), Combat Systems Training Team Member, and Anti-Terrorism Training Team Member. For my final tour (May 2011–Jan 2012), I volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan. Upon completion of my training, I arrived in Kuwait to acclimate to the oppressive heat before heading to my destination in Afghanistan. We landed in Kuwait in the middle of a sandstorm and 125F heat, welcome aboard. After a week there, we flew to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the first night we took multiple incoming rockets—welcome to Afghanistan. Upon getting situated and scheduled for a hop to Kabul, Afghanistan, I finally left for my final destination, Head Quarters, International Security Assistance Force (HQ-ISAF) in downtown Kabul, where I was the Leading Chief Petty Officer (LCPO) of the Base Support Group (BSG). My duties included training a 150-person Macedonian Force Protection Team, International Police, and medical team for a rapid response for an inevitable Taliban attack. In addition, I was responsible for intel collection, coordinating vehicle movement with the local police departments, running a 24-hour operational watch floor tasked with monitoring Taliban movement, vehicle movement, and base security. This by far was the most rewarding tour where teamwork, loyalty, and camaraderie were essential in conducting operations with 48 different countries (NATO) as we planned, coordinated, and executed mission essential tasking. Returning from Afghanistan, I soon retired after nearly 22 years of service.
During my Naval service, I rose through the enlisted ranks, from an E-1 upon entering boot camp to retiring as a Chief Petty Officer (E-7). I earned a degree in Marine Engineering, completed my private pilot’s license, traveled the world, and earned numerous awards and ribbons.
Military awards include:
Defense Meritorious Service Medal
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (7 awards)
Navy Combat Action Ribbon
Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation
Navy Good Conduct Medal (6 awards)
Navy “E” Ribbon
National Defense Service Medal (2 awards)
Afghanistan Campaign Medal
Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal
Global War on Terrorism Service Medal
Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal
Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon (3 awards)
Navy and Marine Corps Oversea Service Ribbon (5 awards)
Navy Rifle Marksmanship Ribbon (sharpshooter)
Navy Pistol Marksmanship Ribbon (expert)
Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist (ESWS)
Integrated Undersea Surveillance System (IUSS) Specialist
Bear Viewing History and Experience:
After retiring in October 2012, I submitted an application to Hallo Bay Bear Camp (HBBC) and was subsequently hired for a two-week period managing a remote camp for the “Disney Nature” film crew during the filming of “BEARS.” After the initial two weeks tending the remote camp was over, I was asked if I wanted to stay and train to become a guide. I did hesitate for a microsecond, and then stayed for the duration of the season. My training consisted of approximately two years of intense field exposure, covering bear behavior, surprise field quizzes, research on local flora, fauna, geology, geography, weather, CPR/first aid, and a final practical with the lead guide. I was mentored and trained by whom I consider the best guides in the field from HBBC, who maintained the leading bear viewing camp in Katmai National Park for over 30 years. Being at the camp, in the park, you are exposed to the bears 24 hours a day in all situations and conditions, immersed in the bear’s world. In 2015, I became the lead Naturalist Guide and camp manager at HBBC, charged with training new guides, organizing set up/breakdown of the camp, and coordinating flights to and from Homer. After the unfortunate closure of HBBC in 2017, I was approached by Emerald Air Service to be their Naturalist guide for the 2018 season, which I eagerly accepted. Through my 7 years of guiding, I have had the privilege of guiding the “Walt Disney Nature crew” during the filming of the movie “BEARS,” Moose Peterson and other professional photographers, in addition to news teams, including KTVA out of Anchorage, filming “bear” week. Along with two years with Emerald Air Service (EAS) conducting trips into the Katmai National Park, I have accumulated over 7 years total time on the ground.
I’ve always loved being out in the wilderness, and in a place with the bears is exceptionally incredible. There is actually a calming feeling for me while we sit on a log, in the grass, on the sand or a river bank, and just observe quietly, watching them play, run, eat, or chase. If you observe them for an extended period of time, you can see that each bear has their own distinctive personalities and are not as dangerous as depicted by Hollywood, if you understand them, respect them, and take proper precautions. I thoroughly enjoy seeing the smiles on our guests’ faces, their eyes light up, gasps, and of course the giggling are all a huge personal reward. My goal is to not just show our guest a bear (anyone can do that), but education: teaching them about the bear, ecology, history, geology, the amazing processes that shaped the area, and all the flora and fauna. I look forward to every trip to Katmai and can’t imagine I will ever get bored (how can you?) because every day in the field is different and exciting, a new experience, ever evolving, and you never know what you will see. Lucky me!
Background and History
I was raised in Fresno, California, and left home at 18 (there had to be a prettier place than Fresno, no offense to anyone). I got my undergraduate degree in animal science from University of Florida, Gainesville. I received my MS in reproductive physiology in beef cattle from Montana State University in Bozeman in 1972. Working with cattle has taken me all over the country. The common thread through my whole life is loving animals and wild places, and wherever I was I spent that kind of time, especially out in the country on my horses—my first love. I’m now 70+ years old and still have the same passions.
Bear Viewing History and Experience
I came up to visit Alaska in 1989—just a visit to Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, to help them open the lodge for the summer (I had a friend who worked for them, and I had always wanted to see Alaska and jumped on the temporary opportunity to visit). As it turned out, they owned Chenik Bear Camp in the McNeil Preserve (not to be confused with the Sanctuary). They were having trouble with the new crew and asked if I would go out and line them out: I ended up firing 2 and staying myself.
I had never been around brown bears and had only seen at a distance a few grizzlies in the Rockies. I loved them but never spent any time or paid much attention to them. I have learned so much about brown bears over the years, but can honestly say I was never uncomfortable around them—they act and react just like a wild horse or owly cow—you just watch their body language and react appropriately.
I was so fortunate to begin at Chenik. We were within 7 boat miles of McNeil Sanctuary, the only place at that time that anyone felt it was safe to be on the ground in close proximity to wild bears. Couple that with being with the best bear biologists in the country, and it was an opportunity that you could never have set up. At that time, there was not the interest in bear viewing that there is now. McNeil often had open slots, and they take 10 people at a time (now the lottery gets over 700 applications for the few summer visitor slots). We all talked to the pilots in the morning on the single sideband radio—no satellite phones, certainly no cell phones—to give them weather, order groceries, arrange pickup/dropoffs. McNeil would simply tell us they had 2 or 4 slots at the sanctuary and we would boat people over for the day, given the seas were good enough.
So I got to spend the summers for several years learning from the best and reinforcing what seemed to me to be reasonable behavior around bears. Then I married our pilot (Ken). I didn’t want to be away from the bears and didn’t want to be away from him, so we wondered if we could simply do “day” bear viewing. Everyone thought it was a crazy idea and would never fly—look at it now. I have never stopped learning about bears and never will—if a person thinks they know it all they have no idea. Ken and I spent many years advocating for the bears, being instrumental in writing and rewriting policy that affects bears, and sharing the bears with our guests. So I am a naturalist, not a biologist. What I have learned I have learned in the field—the bears, honestly, have been my teachers.
I was born in Homer—the youngest of four children, separated from my oldest siblings by eight years. We spent our childhoods 10 miles from town in a small house that enjoyed the comforts of having electricity and running water for our kitchen sink and bathtub. There weren’t many children around where we lived, so I spent the majority of my playtime tromping around the woods alone or tagging along with my older siblings, never going out of earshot of the house (though I pushed that boundary, depending on a very good set of lungs to call me back) and accompanied by one of the family dogs. The woods around our house used to be very thick when I was little. Throughout my time in them I’ve spotted countless moose at all stages of their lives, black bears, brown bears, wolves (my best wolf sighting was when I was cautiously investigating a moose kill), even the elusive lynx, and some of the smaller animals for whom I have a very soft spot—king among my affections being the porcupine. It was before the Spruce Bark Beetle infestation, locally referred to as “the beetle kill,” that wiped out so many of the Kenai Penensula’s woods. From a very young age, I was taught to stay safe by watching and listening to all the warning systems of the forest (and my own personal warning system that was the family dog). I loved it, benefited from it, and recount my childhood as being a happy and idyllic one.
After graduating high school, I left the state for eight years. During that time I majored in Music, married my excellent husband (who has adjusted to his wife’s Alaskan ways remarkably well), and lived in Minneapolis, MN. For those of you who are lucky enough to be Alaskans and feel Alaska strike a chord deep inside, there’s a price to pay: it ruins you for living nearly anywhere else. I find that Alaskans feel a special relationship with the land. This is probably because if you are going to thrive here, these natural beauties need to be food for your soul. You need to make your own sunshine and be flexible. Here, nature is just too strong. It has the final say over your plans. The tides, the ever-changing weather, the salmon runs, solstice, moose calving season, hearing Yellow Crown Sparrows for the first time of the new summer, these things (odd as it may seem to someone in a temperate, urban area where your plans go on without nature’s say), they set the pace of your days. I missed it terribly. So we moved back and I got an unexpected phone call from Chris Day.
Role at Emerald Air Service
Chris Day has been an important friend to me since I was two years old (proof: her phone number is one of the three that I still have memorized). We’ve always been kindred spirits and fellow-adventurers. In that phone call, she offered me my job here at Emerald Air Service. What do I do? It’s a small business, so about everything from taking reservations to fueling the plane. But my best days are when I’m out in the field. I was trained as a guide in the 2019 season by Lance Bassett and Chris Day. I love this little bear viewing business and the heart behind it.
Background and History
I was raised in northeast Georgia, and left for college at 16 to pursue an associates in physics at Middle Georgia College. After a change of heart, I graduated with a bachelors in Biblical and Theological Studies from Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. After marrying my wife, Melissa, I continued in school in Minneapolis and received a master’s degree from the same school. After I graduated in the spring of 2019, Melissa and I decided to take a short summer sabbatical in Homer, where Melissa grew up, while we waited to see if my applications resulted in work in the lower 48 states. Nothing came of my efforts there, so we decided to plant ourselves in Homer for the time being and see what came of it. Now, I work for Emerald Air Service as a contractor doing marketing work—writing and managing the blog, improving website design, and creating video content. Last summer, I got to go out on a few bear viewing trips to capture video and it was incredible. Not only did I not know that bear viewing existed before we moved to Homer this summer, but I got to learn firsthand what it was like, and there is truly nothing like it.
While growing up in Georgia, I enjoyed team sports like soccer and basketball, subjects like chemistry and Spanish in school, and foods like mashed potatoes and gravy with some sweet tea. I like watching SpaceX rocket launches, playing with Leonidas, our dog, and reading books and watching movies with Melissa. As a Georgia boy I prefer warmer climates, but Homer stays relatively warm because its on the coast, and Alaska is stunning in ways that even Georgia can’t compete with (and trust me, I’m biased).
Role at Emerald Air Service
At Emerald Air Service, I’m currently in charge of a lot of the marketing content. I manage the blog, the website, and do video and graphic design work. This summer, for example, you might see me out on the field capturing video of the bears and of Katmai National Park. I really enjoy working with Emerald Air Service. It’s a small business with a passion for excellence, and that’s something I can get behind.