Another brown bear was killed in defense of life and property (DLP) last week, bringing the total number for the year up to 18.
"This year is the highest number of reported DLP shootings on record," said Jeff Selinger, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
According to Fish and Game records, prior to the 2001-02 year, the number of brown bear DLP shootings had never exceeded 10 animals.
However, things have changed for the worse. In 2001-02, the number of brown bear nonhunting mortalities jumped to a record high 14.
Last year the number climbed another notch to 15, and so far this year there have been 18 shootings, with the possibility of more before the year's end.
As to the exact reason why the number has been steadily rising, Selinger said, "It's complicated."
"The increase is probably attributable to a combination of factors," he said. "The human population on the peninsula has grown and continues to grow. With this, recreation into bear country has expanded, which in recent years has led to more bear-human interactions.
"Reports from the public are that they are seeing more bears than in the past, and all of the information I have seen indicates a healthy brown bear population on the peninsula," Selinger said.
"However, the (Fish and Game) department's difficulty is in scientifically quantifying if the bear population has gone up, down or remained stable."
Brown bears are almost everywhere, and for hikers, hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts, seeing a bear is almost inevitable. But more people seeing bears doesn't necessarily mean more bears. It may just mean more people are going where bears have always been.
Selinger said another possible cause of the high rate of DLP shootings may possibly be a decrease in the public's tolerance of bears resulting from the string of maulings this year.
Here on the peninsula, starting back in May, 17-year old Cody Williams was attacked by a bear near Tustumena Lake. Next came the mauling of Dan Bigley in June along the Russian River.
Several attacks on humans were reported from the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna Borough areas this summer, most recently from across Cook Inlet. Word spread like wildfire after the fatal mauling of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard in Katmai National Park and Preserve.
Following the media's reporting of unfortunate events such as these, bear paranoia often will set in, and the number of brown bear DLP shootings can increase dramatically.
As probable as either of these two scenarios may be, Selinger offered a third possibility.
"It could be better compliance of people reporting DLPs," he said. "We're hearing about them now. It's possible that 20 years ago that wasn't the case, but it's difficult to say."
Selinger said he hopes the recent trend of rising DLP shootings doesn't continue.
"We'd like to see them decrease," he said. "To do that, people need to be more aware of bears, bear behavior and safety practices in bear country."
Anyone with questions or concerns regarding bear behavior, bear management or how to decrease the potential for negative interactions with bears can contact Fish and Game at 262-9368.
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