The Kenai National Wildlife refuge announced an emergency closure to sport hunting for brown bear effective at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
According to an emergency order released Friday, 66 bears have been killed by hunters or through other human-caused means this season meaning more than 10% of the estimated 624 bears on the Kenai Peninsula have been killed.
“That level, it’s not sustainable,” said Steve Miller, deputy refuge manager. “We think it’s a critical stage.”
Of the harvested bear, 22 were reproductive-aged females, he said.
Before the 2013 season the Alaska Department of Fish and Game limited the annual number of adult female brown bears who could be killed to 10.
“Suvivorship of adult female bears has been show to be the primary driver of brown bear population dynamics. Losing so many adult female bears will have immediate negative impacts on this populations,” said Refuge Supervisory Wildlife Biologist John Morton, according to the emergency order.
Miller said the high harvest of brown bears was due, in part, to a recent decision by Alaska’s Board of Game which liberalized the hunting methods.
“Prior to 2012, it was a drawing hunt only. Now it has become a registration hunt. Prior to this year there was one bear every four regulator years, this year it was one bear every regulatory year,” he said.
As of Oct. 22., more than 1,200 permits to hunt brown bear on the Kenai Peninsula have been issued by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Miller said.
State and Federal wildlife managers are not in total agreement over the closure.
Doug Vincent-Lang, Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game put out a media release saying the State of Alaska was disappointed by federal intervention in state hunting regulations.
“The current harvest of bears this year is not unexpected and does not represent a viability concern. Once again we are faced with overreach by the federal government into the management of Alaska’s wildlife,” Vincent-Lang said in the media release.
The debate over what percentage of the brown bear population could be harvested and still be considered sustainable is an ongoing one, Miller said.
“We’ve always harvested five percent or less in previous years,” he said. “The population has remained stable or slightly increased.”
The emergency closure will be in effect for 30 days, although by the end of it most of the bears will have begun their hibernation for the season.
“It effectively shuts down the rest of the brown bear hunt for this season,” Miller said.
In the interim, Fish and Wildlife Service officials plan to have a series of meetings with the public to determine the best way to move forward with management.
“As it has in previous years, the Service envisions developing and eventually implementing harvest parameters after appropriate public input and review, in an effort to ensure that harvests remain sustainable and which focus on adequately protecting adult female bears for the healthy reproduction of the brown bear population on the Kenai Peninsula,” Morton said according to the media release.
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