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Brown bear hunt canceled

Posted: Friday, September 26, 2008

Hunters can say goodbye to another brown bear season on the Kenai Peninsula, as the fall portion of the hunt has been canceled again due to too many human-caused killings of bears this past summer.

"An emergency order has been issued closing the fall portion of the brown bear drawing permit hunts in Game Management Unit 7 and 15, but people who received these permits will be allowed to hunt during the spring portion of these hunts," said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Soldotna.

The fall portion of the hunt was scheduled to begin Wednesday and run through Nov. 30. The justification for the closure was related to Fish and Game's operating procedure of managing for a harvest that does not exceed 20 total brown bears, nor exceed eight female bears older than 1 year, killed by human causes from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

"Documented human-caused mortalities were at 32 brown bears as of Sept. 10 (when the emergency order was issued), and we're at 34 now," Selinger said on Wednesday.

While the 20-bear total has been exceeded that past several years, the numbers of brown bears killed has been around 29 to 30, so 34 for one year is a new record, albeit an undesirable one. Also, since the bears are still weeks, if not months, from going into hibernation, Selinger said the numbers of kills may still go up further before the end of the year.

"Bears are still out, so I wouldn't be surprised if we have one or two more in October," he said.

The brown bear population is believed to be healthy and viable following several years of overescapements of salmon in the Kenai and Kasilof Rivers, so more bear encounters with humans are a possibility for the high number of kills, but Selinger said it is difficult to pinpoint just one factor as being responsible for all the deaths.

Human-caused mortalities can include defense of life and property kills, automobile collisions, illegally taken brown bears, hunter kills, and management related deaths.

"We did have a number of agency killings this year. Eleven of those 34 were agency kills, as opposed to one or two in past years," he said.

Even among these agency kills, Selinger said the bears' deaths were not all under the same circumstances, since some were injured bears that were dispatched, some were nuisance bears that were euthanized after becoming acclimated to eating human-generated garbage, and several -- in the Russian River area in particular -- were deemed a danger to the public, also as a result of being attracted to human-related items such as salmon carcasses not disposed of properly.

"Also, some of these agency kills were family groups, so when the sow was put down, the cubs would have to be put down with it, and that added to the numbers," he said.

Selinger said if the current pattern of human-caused mortality continues, the fall portion of the brown bear hunts will also likely continue to be closed.

"People need to be more responsible with attractants," he said.

Selinger said Fish and Game is doing it's part through their ongoing educational campaigns, and by attempting to have more bears harvested rather than being shot in defense of life and property killings.

"We issued 25 permits this year, up from 18 a year ago," he said.

Those 25 permit holders will be allowed to hunt in the spring portion of the brown bear hunt, which will run from April 1, 2009, through June 15, 2009. However, last spring only one brown bear was harvested during this time.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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