Although some hunters found it a little too brief, based on the final numbers, wildlife managers are for the most part satisfied with their decision for early closure of the 2004 fall brown bear hunting season on the Kenai Peninsula.
"It was a tough call to make, but it was a responsible management decision that had to be made, and we prevented an overharvest of animals," said Alaska Department of Fish and Game area manager Jeff Selinger.
Although it could have run as late as Oct. 31, the brown bear season in Game Management Unit 7 and 15 was closed by emergency order only two days after it opened.
Fish and Game made the decision to prevent the possibility of an over harvest after it became clear there was much more hunter participation than was predicted from analyzing data from past hunting seasons.
"In 1999 we issued 154 permits, in 2000 it was 147 and in 2001 it was 98, so we were expecting roughly 175 permits would be issued," Selinger said.
Instead, more than 250 permits were issued for the 2004 season, and Selinger speculated at the reason for the spike.
"I think the biggest factor was that there was no season on the Kenai in 2002 or 2003," he said.
The numbers reported for this year's two-day season reflect a harvest of four bears one sow and three boars.
"The sow was a 3-year-old taken in the Skilak Lake area, two of the boars were 4-year-olds from the area off of Tustumena Lake and the biggest boar was a 7-year-old with a 26-inch skull harvested in the Killey River area," Selinger said.
This brings the annual reported human-caused deaths of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula to 15, including five female bears older than 1 year and one bear of unknown sex.
This falls slightly short of Fish and Game's management goal for annual human-caused mortalities, which allows for no more than 20 bears, of which a maximum of eight may be female bears older than 1 year.
However, Selinger said it was better to have fallen short of the quota than exceeded it.
"Twenty and eight doesn't mean we have to get to that number. It's OK to be below it, it's just not OK to be above it," he said.
"In the big picture, an overharvest of even one animal could significantly impact the brown bear hunt for several years," he added.
Closing the season before the quota was met left many hunters disconcerted, though.
"Some people were justifiably upset," Selinger said. "But, they have to understand that with a registration hunt you can't just shut it off when you hit the exact number because you have to give 24-hour notice, and people will still be in the field and could cause an overharvest."
He added that there was discussion within the department to open the season back up for a brief period of time to a limited number of hunters, but in the end, Fish and Game headquarters in Juneau decided against it.
Despite the fact that some hunters didn't agree with the decision, Selinger said hunters still complied with it, regardless of their feelings.
"We've had a lot of cooperation from hunters for the most part," he said.
"Hopefully, though, by shutting it down when we did, we'll be able to have a hunt next year that we can apply what we learned this year so that things will run more smoothly," he said.
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