If many more bears die as a result of human encounters, the Kenai Peninsula's brown bear hunting season will be canceled.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game area manager Jeff Selinger has been closely monitoring the bear number situation in recent days, following the recent fatal shooting of a sow and her three cubs by a frightened angler. That incident preceded Tuesday's mauling by a brown bear sow that left a Girdwood man hospitalized in critical condition.
"I'm not getting much sleep," Selinger said Friday afternoon.
Selinger said he's been spending much of his time near the confluence of the Russian and Kenai rivers, trying to make sure no more humans or bears meet tragic fates. Many more bear deaths will mean hunting will be closed this fall.
Brown bear hunting on the peninsula is closely monitored and regulated. Although the peninsula's population is believed to be strong, the bears are a "population of special concern," meaning the department is constantly keeping an eye on the situation.
Hunting is automatically closed if a certain number of animals are killed by humans before the season begins. Although the Alaska Board of Game recently upped the overall number of bears from 14 to 20 that can die before hunting is prohibited; eight of those can be females older than one year. Already, five such female bears have been documented as killed, with an overall total of 11 bears confirmed dead.
Some confusion has popped up regarding just how those figures are arrived at.
In previous years, bear cubs counted against the total as half of one "bear unit." Selinger said that's no longer the case and pointed out that the article in Thursday's Peninsula Clarion which stated that bear cubs are counted as a half unit was incorrect.
"We changed the way we're going to do that," he said.
Now, he said, females (other than yearling cubs) count against both the overall and the female total. All other bears simply count as one toward the overall total. Selinger said the new way will make it easier to get a handle on exactly where bear numbers are at.
"I'm not messing with half a bear," he said.
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