Officials from the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game want to know who shot and killed a 3-year-old brown bear sometime last month near Tustumena Lake.
The bear, a male, was found dead Aug. 23 in Moose Creek, which feeds into the lake, by a team of Fish and Game workers conducting a survey of spawning salmon.
"We were just doing a stream survey, counting spawning salmon," said biologist Dave Westerman. "We got about 300 yards up the creek and there it was in the middle of the creek."
Westerman said the bear had not yet decomposed, leading him to speculate that it likely was killed within the previous week. He said a similar stream survey was taken Aug. 4 and the bear was not there.
The bear was found to have at least one bullet hole in its rib cage and was missing a claw. In addition, Westerman said someone had cut into the animal's gut and had also tried to cut into the bear's pelvic bone, but abandoned the task.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge enforcement officer Kelly Modla said the refuge is actively seeking anyone who has any information on the incident. She said Wednesday that she's hoping someone may have seen or heard something unusual in the area where the bear was found.
"Someone who might have been hunting or boating or hiking and may have heard or seen something, we'd certainly like to know," Modla said.
Modla is asking anyone with any information on the incident to call her at 262-7021.
Fish and Game area manager Jeff Selinger said there have been at least 11 human-caused brown bear deaths so far this year on the Kenai Peninsula. One of those, the high-profile killing of a well-known mother bear near the Russian River resulted in charges being filed against an Anchorage man last month.
Because the brown bear hunting season is tied closely to how many bears are killed by other means, Selinger said the latest bear death could have an impact on the fall hunt.
"It forces me to be more conservative with my area management," Selinger said.
Last year's brown bear hunting season lasted just two days after more than 250 people filed for permits. During that time, peninsula hunters took four bears, including three boars and a sow.
Selinger said he believes some bear killings are not reported because people believe failing to report the kill could increase the chances of there being a hunt. In reality, he said, the opposite is true.
Instead of increasing the likelihood of a hunting season, such behavior actually forces Selinger to take a more cautious approach because he knows there is likely a certain number of dead bears that may never be discovered or reported.
"It's extremely frustrating for me because it puts me in a position where I don't have many options," he said.
Compounding the problem of brown bear management is the fact there are still a high number of bears being killed either in defense of life or property or in auto accidents. Many of these deaths can be prevented, Selinger said, but only when people stop engaging in behavior that brings bears into populated areas.
"We're looking to get at the sources of the problem, and that is attractants around human population centers," he said.
The department and the city of Kenai recently received a $90,000 state grant to begin a joint program to reduce the number of human-bear interactions in town. Selinger said he's hopeful the program, which will introduce bear-resistant garbage cans to some neighborhoods and include a public education campaign, will help curb some of the problems. However, he noted it only takes one stinky pile of trash or pet food to bring a bear onto someone's porch or driveway.
"All it takes is one or two people to not follow the program and the whole subdivision suffers," he said.
With so much wild land on the peninsula, Selinger said it's unlikely bears will ever stop straying into neighborhoods. But if bears learn people are a food source, he said bad things usually happen.
"If those bears learn that activity, they're going to be shot," he said. "Right now we have too many attractants bringing bears into where we live."
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