By Joseph Robertia
With nearly 600 people participating in a fall brown bear registration hunt — the first in several years on the Kenai Peninsula — it may be an understatement to say those looking to bag a bruin were eager to take to the woods in something other than a drawing hunt.
“I knew we’d issue more than the last one, since it’s been a number of years, but 569 is a little higher than anticipated,” said Jeff Selinger, area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
As of Monday morning, Selinger said that 569 was the number of registered hunters, with the vast majority being peninsula residents. Only 95 hunters were from other parts of the state, and only two were nonresidents, from Nebraska and New York.
Although, Selinger added that people were still registering daily for the hunt, which has no limit to the number of people who can register, so the number of overall hunters participating could grow even higher before the end of what is scheduled to be, at its longest, a 60-day hunt.
The hunt officially began Oct. 1 and is scheduled through Nov 30, although Selinger said that registration hunts for brown bears rarely go the full duration.
“They tend to be short, generally between two days and a week,” he said.
The last registration hunt for brown bear in more than a decade on the peninsula was in 2004. The hunt only lasted two days and had 274 hunters registered. With so many eager to bag a brown bear, the hunt was closed by emergency order to prevent an overharvest.
At that time the management of bruins was on a three-year average, with a goal to not exceed an annual human-caused mortality of more than 20 bears, with an allowed maximum of which six female bears older than 1 year.
Since then, the management objectives of Fish and Game have changed. In 2005 the limit went to not exceeding 20 brown bears total for the year, of which not more than eight could be female bears older than 1 year. In 2009 it changed again to not exceeding 10 females of reproductive age.
“The concept at opening was when we had a confirmed 10 females from all human-caused mortalities, counting from January 1st, the hunt will close. As of this time, that is what I’ve been instructed to do,” Selinger said.
Prior to October, Selinger said there had been a total of 11 brown bears to die from human-caused mortalities on the peninsula, three of which were females of reproductive age.
Of these, four were hunter kills. One was a sow taken during the federal subsistence hunt in September. Two boars were taken in the spring portion of the drawing permit hunting season, and another sow was taken in the fall drawing permit season, which ran from Sept. 15 though Sept. 30, just prior to the registration hunt opener.
An additional one bear was hit by a vehicle, there were five brown bears killed in defense of life and property shootings, and Selinger said that two cubs were euthanized by Fish and Game as a result of one of these DLPs being another sow.
“Since Oct. 1, we’ve had another 14 bears die as a result of human-caused mortality, of which six were females of reproductive age, so as of this moment, we’re at nine females for the year,” Selinger said Monday morning.
Of these, seven of the females were taken as part of the hunt and an additional female was killed in a DLP shooting.
The return of a registration hunt came as a result of the Alaska Board of Game making a change to the hunting system during a meeting on statewide regulations last January. Proposal 258, submitted by the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, requested the change to contend with an increased number of brown bears on the peninsula, although no brown bear census data, past or present, was cited in the proposal to back up this statement.
The results of the most recent census, conducted two years ago by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, has not yet been released. John Morton, a supervisory biologist at the refuge, said on Friday that it won’t be much longer.
“We are currently having the study report being independently reviewed by outside scientists with expertise in estimating bear populations, as well as continuing our coordination with ADF&G on study results. We recognize that there is strong public interest in the study’s results, and we will release our report as soon as possible once this review is complete,” Morton said.
Proposal 258 went on to state that the majority of the bears killed locally in recent years were killed as DLP shootings or by Fish and Game staff for public safety concerns.
“We believe licensed hunters should have an opportunity to take these bears, instead of department staff or being killed in defense of life or property,” the proposal states.
Selinger said that a belief that there are too many bears on the peninsula is likely also contributing to so many people registering for the fall hunt.
“Too many bears, people under the assumption that less bears will help increase the moose numbers, and people being frustrated they haven’t been able to hunt brown bears locally for cheap — from the road system, rather than having to fly out somewhere — are all things I’ve been told by people and factors contributing to the number,” he said.
As to how long the hunt will last, Selinger said that time will tell. Brown bears must be sealed at Fish and Game offices in Soldotna, Homer or Anchorage within five days of the kill, but hunters have three days from when they harvest a bruin to report it, and not all hunters might report on the same day of harvest.
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