A liberalized brown bear season on the Kenai has resulted in more than sixty bears harvested. Citing increased bear-human conflicts and a threat to the moose population, the Board of Game allowed permitted hunting this year with the goal of bringing the bear population down. How this year’s harvest will contribute to that goal is not known.
A lot of time was spent this spring discussing Kenai brown bears when the Board of Game was in town. The message was clear: there are more bears, and more people, and so, we see more problems with bears.
The Board opened up brown bear hunting to permitting as opposed to a drawing. The result: more than a thousand permits issued and 66 bears taken before hunting was closed on the Kenai Wildlife Refuge, which represents a big chunk of where Kenai brown bears are hunted. That’s more than 10 percent of the total brown bear population, and for the federal government, which regulates the Refuge, that was too much.
Gino Del Frati is the Region II manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He says a harvest of six to eight percent is generally regarded as what’s needed to sustain a population.
“Either through modeling or through practical experience, that is believed to be sustainable on the long term…We’re over, but not by a substantial amount. Again, we’re over because that was the objective of the exercise.
“In economic terms, this would be kind of like a market correction. The stock market increases, increases, increases, then every once in a while, something drastic happens and that stock market drops down a little bit. Then it continues to rebuild, or it equilibrates down the road,” Del Frati said.
But exactly what effect that spike in the number of bears killed this year will have on the population in the future isn’t known.
“I’m hoping that what we would see next summer is fewer bear problems. I firmly believe that that’s going to be the end result of this…The challenge is taking those specific bears that are truly the problem bears, and not necessarily the ones that aren’t,” Del Frati said.
When the Board of Game was deliberating changing the harvest limits, Board Chair Ted Spraker asked, essentially, what’s the basement? What’s the smallest number of bears we can have on the Peninsula, while still maintaining some population?ADF&G Biologist Sean Farley pointed to management practices in British Columbia for the answer.
Spraker: “We’ve heard figures about the number of bears you need to maintain in a population to kind of secure that population. We’ve heard figures of, you need at least 200 individuals to kind of stabilize that population. Can you offer any suggestions on that lower number?”
Dr. Farley: “One of the reasons I did bring in some information from B.C (British Columbia), is that obviously, the province is huge; much bigger than the Peninsula. But they’ve broken it into what they think are 56 little populations (of bears) that aren’t communicating with each other, and some of them are about the size of the Peninsula and some are coastal. And they use a lower figure of 100 bears. That’s their number for cutoff for hunting. If their assessment is that it’s about 100 bears or so, then they need to be worried and they’ll stop the hunt and move on to conservation measures.”
Del Frati says the exercise this year will be evaluated and a quota will be in place again for 2014, though that number isn’t known yet. Then, it will be back to the Board of Game in 2015 to see if the management strategies need changed some more.