For the first time in three years, it looks like Kenai Peninsula hunters will be able to harvest brown bears this season.
According to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologist Jeff Selinger, unless several bears are killed by humans between today and Friday, the regular hunting season will open as planned.
"Unless something drastic happens, we will have a hunt," he said.
Each year, Selinger sets a quota on the number of bears that can be killed by humans, whether in defense of life or property, by vehicles or through hunting. If that number this year it was 20 total bears, of which only eight could be female is reached, the hunt is called off.
That's happened for the past two years, but this year Selinger said there have been few enough human-caused bear deaths to allow the hunt to go forward.
"We have left in the quota nine, no more than three of which can be females," he said.
Selinger said the peninsula hunt will be a closely regulated registration hunt. Hunters must register at Fish and Game offices in Kenai, Homer or Anchorage, must have a locking tag and can only hunt if they've not taken a brown bear on the peninsula within the past four years.
In addition, hunters will be required to call Fish and Game before going hunting, must report any kill within three days and comply with all other hunting regulations in the area where they're hunting.
"You have to call us before you go in the field," he said.
The hunt is scheduled to open Friday and will run though the end of the month.
However, Selinger said it will be shut down early if he believes either the nine total bears or three female totals are being approached.
"We have to make sure it goes well so we can have future hunts," he said.
Asked how he hopes to ensure that those numbers aren't exceeded, Selinger said it's just a matter of watching the hunt as closely as possible and getting cooperation from the hunters.
"That's the problem with registration hunts," he said. "You're somewhat playing a guessing game."
In order for Fish and Game to keep a close watch on the hunt, Selinger said hunters can only hunt for seven days after they receive their permit.
The peninsula's brown bear population has been estimated to be around 300 bears, although there has been no comprehensive survey done in recent years.
However, during a report Selinger gave last month to the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game advisory committee, he said game managers are confident there is a healthy population on the peninsula.
"People seem to be seeing more brown bears than in the past," he said. "I don't think we have a real concern."
In order to further ensure the hunt does not have a negative impact on overall bear numbers, the department is encouraging hunters to only shoot males if possible. In addition, females with cubs cannot be killed.
Selinger said interest in the hunt has been fairly strong, with roughly 75 hunters filing for permits as of Tuesday.
For more information on the bear hunt, hunters should consult their current 2004 Alaska hunting regulations, or call Fish and Game at 262-9368.
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