It appears the Kenai Peninsula is on the cusp of seeing its first brown bear hunt after a consecutive two-year hiatus.
"The season will open unless something drastic happens in the next 10 days to change things from how they are today," said Fish and Game area manager Jeff Selinger on Friday.
He explained that something drastic translates to a change in the number of human caused mortalities of brown bears, such as defense of life and property, or DLP, shootings or from traffic collisions.
Fish and Game begins counting human caused mortalities at the beginning of every year to ensure that the number of bears killed prior to the opening day of hunting season does not exceeded their established quota.
"In 2002, the quota was set at 14 brown bears of which no more than six could be females, but in 2003 the quota was raised by the Alaska Board of Game to 20 brown bears of which no more than eight could be females," Selinger said.
Despite this increase, the brown bear season still was canceled in 2003, just as it was in 2002, as a result of the high number of brown bears killed before hunting season could open.
"As of today, Oct. 1, the number of human caused mortalities is 10 brown bears, of which three are female, and one, the sex is unknown," Selinger said.
He added that the unknown animal likely will be counted as a female, as well.
"This leaves room for the harvest of 10 bears, of which no more than four can be females," Selinger said.
As to the reason the number of human caused mortalities wasn't reached prior to opening day this year, Selinger said it was difficult to pinpoint any one specific factor.
"It was likely a combination of factors" he said.
One possibility was that the high number of bears killed last year -- when the quota was reached as early as July -- translated to less bears in those areas this year.
Another possibility is that with the large salmon returns this year, the bears might have dispersed differently than in past years.
Selinger also suggested a third possibility that people traveling in bear country might be more educated as a result of the widespread media exposure that followed the mauling of Dan Bigley in July, and the deaths of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard in October 2003.
"Those events are still in people's minds so they might be taking more precautions," he said.
Here on the peninsula, which constitutes Game Management Units 7 and 15, the brown bear hunt is a registration hunt, and permits will become available Oct. 11 at the Fish and Game offices in Soldotna, Homer and Anchorage. Interested hunters must apply in-person.
A Fish and Game hot line at 260-2905 will be available after Oct. 11 and provide information regarding the opening and closing of the brown bear hunting season, since it depends highly on the sex and number of bears killed, prior to and after the start of the hunt.
The brown bear hunting season is scheduled to open on Oct. 15 and could run as late as Oct. 31, but Selinger said it's all dependent on what hunters harvest.
"The more hunters target male bears, the longer the season will remain open," he said.
Successful hunters are required to report their harvest to the Fish and Game office in Soldotna within three days. This can be done by calling 262-9368 or the hot line.
Successful hunters also are required to have their harvest sealed within five days. Sealing means taking the skull and skin (with claws and evidence of sex attached) to the Fish and Game office in Soldotna or Homer.
Hunters also are reminded that it is illegal to hunt brown bears over bait or with scent lures.
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