Bruce Willard tries to keep about 80 to 100 head of cattle on his farm in the Fox River drainage on the Kenai Peninsula, but over the past four years brown bear have killed nearly 40 cows and twice as many calves.
“And I’m not the only one that’s lost cattle,” said Willard, of Homer.
During three days of public testimony at the Alaska Board of Game meeting in Kenai, other area residents said the Peninsula brown bear population is a problem.
Many said the brown bears contest black bear baiting stands, cutting off the hunters’ springtime source of meat. Others said there is an increased brown bear presence in town, and they are concerned. And some said they are killing off the moose population.
Steve Vanek, the secretary for the Ninilchik Advisory Committee, said following the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge’s recent release of the Peninsula’s brown bear population estimate — a figure much larger the past estimate — bear hunting opportunity should increase.
After five days of public testimony and board deliberation that ended Tuesday afternoon, the board unanimously passed the amended proposal 153A, opening the doors for Peninsula brown bear hunting and baiting.
The proposal sets a Sept. 1 through May 31 registration brown bear hunt in game management units 7 and 15, with one bear taken under a registration permit every regulatory year for residents and non-residents.
Unit 7 spans from the Kenai Mountains east including Cooper Landing and Hope; Unit 15, the rest of the Peninsula.
In past years, Fish and Game has restricted the brown bear hunts through a drawing permit process, but now the registration process will open the hunt up and increase harvest opportunity.
“This way, with an open registration, you will not have to be lucky and draw a permit,” said Ted Spraker, board chairman and Soldotna resident.
The proposal will also allow brown bear to be harvested when contesting hunters’ black bear baiting sites and will distribute baiting and scent luring permits in units 7 and 15.
Spraker said shooting brown bear from a baiting stand will allow hunters to more accurately identify the sex of the bear, reducing the death of adult female brown bears, a critical component of the bear population.
Fish and Game already implements brown bear baiting in six other units in the Southcentral and Interior regions of the state. Spraker said it is not a new concept.
The proposal requires that all edible brown bear meat be salvaged.
So brown bears are not overharvested, Spraker recommended that Fish and Game establish an allowable brown bear minimum population number.
“We need to draw a line in the sand with this,” Spraker said.
The new Peninsula brown bear estimate lists the population at 624 bears. The old estimate was calculated at less than half — 250 to 300 — and Spraker suggested Fish and Game set the bar there.
Spraker said, “250-300 is a number the community has lived with for years.”
Spraker also suggested Fish and Game set an upper harvest objective, proposing the hunt not exceed 70 brown bears harvested for a calendar year. The cap will include all brown bear mortalities. If the harvest cap is reached, the season will close prematurely. Spraker proposed the cap go into place Jan. 1, 2014.
“These are some additional things that I think demonstrate the conservation concerns that we (the board) have,” Spraker said.
Doug Vincent-Lang, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division Director, said Fish and Game becomes concerned when the board proposes liberalized hunts, but he said the amended proposal is sustainable.
Spraker said proposal 153A is not an intensive management — or targeted predator killing — effort.
“If we do remove a few extra bears here and there, it’s definitely going to help the moose population,” he said. “(But) it’s not going to be the answer.”
He said the board passed the proposal to increase brown bear hunting opportunity. He said that is what the public wants.
This story has been edited to correct an error.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.