Is low harvest a good sign?

Posted: Friday, November 27, 2009

I never again want to hear there are too many bears on the Kenai Peninsula.

After nearly a decade without a fall brown bear hunt going the distance -- or even occurring at all -- this season the hunt ran its course, and the end result was one legally harvested bruin.

One.

This was a huge shock to me, and also to Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger. But rather than being cynical and prematurely commenting on a lack of hunter effort before harvest record cards are turned into Fish and Game, Selinger postulated a more positive possibility.

"I think people are being more responsible with attractants," he said.

Steps to reduce attractants include having garbage in bear-resistant containers and making frequent trips to the dump to haul it off; chest freezers full of fish, moose and other food items being secured with ratchet straps or locking latches; native birds being provided only with a bird bath in summer, not seed or suet, and any winter leftovers thoroughly cleaned; residents making sure beehives and livestock -- such as pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits -- are protected with electric fencing, and that livestock and pet feed is indoors or stored in a secure place.

Selinger has long said we just have to work all these things into our daily lives and it'll have a huge impact on minimizing negative encounters with bears. Perhaps the low fall hunting harvest was reflective of this summer success, he speculated.

"Bears aren't 'living' in neighborhoods as much as they did 5 to 10 years ago," he said. "Now, we're starting to see them going off the Killey River to catch salmon in summer, rather than feeding on people's chickens in town."

This is Alaska, so bears will of course still move through from time to time, but if there's nothing to hold them here they won't stick around. Hopefully, the low fall hunt harvest is a reflection of this belief by Selinger, and bears are pushing further into the wild to make a living.

If so, perhaps it's time for hunters to start actually hunting again and move away from opportunistically killing bears. This would be a good thing, since in my experience brown bear hunting is rarely about harvesting meat. Much more often it is done for the trophy: a skull or hide to hang on the wall to mentally relive the adventure of the hunt each time the item is glanced upon.

As such, who would want to look at something they barely worked for? Taking a boat up to Tustumena Lake or Skilak Lake to nuke the first bruin that moves, or blasting a bear that is stumbled upon while driving a back road is barely a measure of true hunting skill.

Maybe as more hunters get off the beaten path and begin seeking bruins in the bear's neighborhood, instead of ours, the fall harvest numbers will rise.

This column is the opinion of Clarion reporter Joseph Robertia. He can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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