Brown bear hunters who did not win a drawing permit this year will have an opportunity to hunt as the state switches to a registration permit hunt in game management units 7 and 15 on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Alaska Board of Game adopted a proposal in a January statewide board meeting to change the brown bear hunt management from a drawing system to a registration-based system.
Ted Spraker, acting chair of the board, said they made the change because hunters in the public supported the change, and he — and many others — firmly believe the brown bear population on the Peninsula has nearly doubled since it was estimated 30 years ago.
An Alaska Department of Fish and Game study in unit 15C, south of Tustumena Lake, found brown bears killed 40 percent of moose calves this spring, Fish and Game research biologist Thomas McDonough said.
The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is also conducting a study to determine the exact brown bear population in the refuge, Refuge Manager Andy Loranger said.
Both studies, however, are in their preliminary stages. Fish and Game still needs to examine kill sites to be certain brown bears are the main moose calf predators and the refuge expects that to be done in the next couple of months, Loranger said.
But Spraker said he has learned to listen to the hunting and outdoor communities, those who have their “finger on this issue.”
“When the public starts telling you there’s fewer moose, they start telling you there are more bears, and you hear that from everyone ... they’re right,” he said.
The registration-based system will issue more hunting permits, likely resulting in a greater brown bear harvest, Spraker said.
“There’s a lot of scientific information on brown bears that is being generated that will help give you a better understand of whether the population is increasing or stable,” he said.
Tom Netschert, a member of the Board of Directors for the Kenai chapter of Safari Club International, said, “We don’t want to annihilate any species, but they need to be properly managed.”
He is also worried about human lives. He has been fishing on the Russian River for 34 years, he said, and he used to walk back to his car at 1 a.m. with a sack of salmon over his shoulder. But that is dangerous now, he said.
“What does that tell you?” he said. “What’s more important — a human life, or a bear life? We ought to come to those conclusions.”
The season for hunters to obtain a registration permit will start Monday, 15 days after those permitted under the drawing permits.
Both seasons will run to Nov. 30, unless 10 reproductive-aged female brown bears are killed, closing the season by emergency order.
The limit extends to all human-caused reproductive-aged female brown bear deaths on the Peninsula.
“It’s total human-caused mortality,” said Jeff Selinger, Kenai area wildlife biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Hunters with drawing permits will have a longer season if the bear quota is not reached.
“The spring season for people who have drawing permits and who did not harvest a brown bear during the fall season is April 1 to June 15,” Selinger said.
Next year, Fish and Game will switch entirely to the registration-based system to manage brown bear hunting on the Peninsula, Selinger said.
Brown bear hunting permits are available at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices in Soldotna and Homer. Hunters must also buy a $25 brown bear tag before they are issued a permit. Tags are available at hunting outfitters and online.
Both residents and non-residents may hunt brown bear, however non-residents require a guide, according to a Fish and Game press release.
All harvested bears must be reported to Selinger in person or by phone — 260-2905 — within three days.
Unsuccessful hunts also need to be reported 10 days within the close of the season.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.