KODIAK (AP) -- State and Federal wildlife managers will do an aerial count of brown bears this week at the southern end of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.
The surveys are done on one or more of nine study areas ranging between 65,000 and 110,000 acres each. The counts help wildlife managers determine the density and health of Kodiak's world-renowned brown bear population, estimated at 3,000.
Attempts are made to resurvey each area once every five to seven years. This year the survey will be on the Aliulik Peninsula, on the extreme south end of Kodiak Island.
Local state and federal wildlife managers use the surveys to determine whether significant bear population changes have occurred within a particular area. Using that information, they decide whether additional management measures should be taken to restore healthy population levels, according to Fish and Game biologist Larry Van Daele.
The surveys can be conducted only during a short time each spring, when sows with cubs emerge from hibernation, and before spring green-up occurs, making visibility difficult.
Three separate spotting teams fly slowly, about 500 feet above the ground counting bears. Each team surveys a specific area four times on four clear days, and each team alternates the counts by doing it in the morning, afternoon and evening.
The counts are later compared and averaged, said Bill Pyle, supervisory biologist with the refuge. While developing the technique over a 15-year period, then-Kodiak refuge bear biologist Vic Barnes and former Fish and Game biologist Roger Smith anesthetized and put radio collars on a variety of ages of bears, so their location could be tracked over time, according to Pyle. In this way, they were able to estimate the percentage of bears that are likely to be hiding from sight and missed by surveyors.
An increase or decrease of up to 10 percent in the historical bear population in a particular area generally has been considered an acceptable variation by local wildlife managers, Pyle said.
A larger change would be a clear warning signal that something more needs to be done, he said. That could include hunting regulation changes and habitat modifications such as salmon escapement levels.
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.