Both drawing- and registration-permitted brown bear hunters in Game Management Units 7 and 15 will have to set down their rifles until Oct. 25, per Alaska Department of Fish and Game emergency order.
“We are at 11 right now confirmed (reproductive-age female deaths),” said Jeff Selinger, Kenai area wildlife biologist. “We’ll see what else comes in, we’ll open that late season hunt and we’ll determine after we get all that information ... how long we’ll let that late season run.”
As of Oct. 9, Fish and Game biologists have confirmed 11 brown bear reproductive-age female deaths, exceeding its management objective of 10, Selinger said.
“By delaying the hunt until Oct. 25 ... we anticipate some of those animals will be in the den already, and so they won’t be available for the harvest,” he said.
Fish and Game will also take that time to reflect on data from the first portion of the hunting season, so when the season starts again, it will have a better idea of the number of bears hunters can harvest.
The deaths, however, do not close the season for the year, Selinger said.
Ted Spraker, acting chair of the Board of Game, said the board voted to enact a three-year running average to manage the reproductive-age female deaths at the January statewide Board of Game meeting.
But the message, he said, was broadcast incorrectly.
“I’m not blaming anybody,” he said. “It’s just a matter that things weren’t clear, and we just recently cleared them all up.”
The three-year running average, which Fish and Game is now adopting, gives a greater margin of error to reproductive-age female deaths this brown bear hunting season, Selinger said.
It allows for 30 reproductive-age female brown bear deaths over a given three-year period, Spraker said.
Last year, Selinger said hunters killed six reproductive-age female brown bears; the year before that, he said they killed five.
That leaves 19 reproductive-age female bears available this year, giving hunters more opportunity this season to harvest more bears.
Spraker said many people may be concerned that Fish and Game’s brown bear hunt management may “decimate” the brown bear population, but that is “impossible,” he said, as long as the sows with cubs are protected.
“Even if we had the most generous season,” he said, “that protective law just guarantees that you’re not going to wipe out brown bears on the Kenai.”
He cited Unit 16B across Cook Inlet as an example of generous management.
“They’re snaring bears,” he said. “It’s a year-long season for brown bears. You can take two brown bears per year. There’s no quota on how many females can be taken, and it’s very similar to the Kenai as far as density of bears and so forth and vegetation and access.”
He said despite those efforts in that unit to reduce bear populations, “they just can’t do it.”
“Bears are hard to hunt,” he said. “People think bears are just simple to take, and they’re not.”
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.