Using state data from the last two decades, refuge manager Andy Loranger said the population of brown bears has declined 18 percent on the Kenai Peninsula because of human-caused deaths. The service proposed a temporary closure of the brown-bear hunting season effective Sept. 1 to May 31, 2015 as a “protective measure to ensure consistency with refuge mandates.”
More liberal hunting regulations were enacted in 2012 by the Alaska Board of Game. As a result, 168 brown bears, including 42 adult sows, have been killed in the last three years, refuge supervisory biologist John Morton said.
“In a small population. If you kill a lot of bears, it will have an impact,” Morton said. “This is why a cautious approach is warranted. The refuge is mandated by Congress to conserve wildlife population – and that includes brown bears.”
Last October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a 30-day emergency closure on the refuge. To date this year, 54 brown bears have been killed, including five adult sows, 52 through hunting. Alaska’s Fish and Game agency has set a cap to not exceed 70 bears and that adult-sow mortalities not exceed 17, The Peninsula Clarion reports (http://bit.ly/1CedFXs).
Locals and state officials weren’t convinced.
“What is missing from the discussion is the requests from the public to respond to increasing brown bear populations and negative interactions,” said Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “The refuge is more on management philosophy and ethics than resource conservation. . No definition of natural diversity is offered. I don’t believe the intention of Congress was to allow the federal government to hold such power over fish and wildlife that have been recognized as a state resource.”
We believe the biological information the Service has provided to justify this closure is incomplete and in some cases inaccurate. For instance, the Service asserts that brown bear population densities on the 2 Director’s Comments/USFWS Proposal to Pre-empt State Brown Bear Regs.
Kenai Peninsula should be comparable to those on the Katmai coast, Kodiak archipelago, and portions of southeast Alaska. While all of these bear populations have access to salmon as a food source, the bears on the Kenai lack the access to rich intertidal areas and sedge flats that typify true coastal bear populations. Expecting brown bear densities on the Kenai Peninsula to match those of true coastal populations elsewhere and managing accordingly is not reasonable, particularly when coupled with the increased level of human influence on the Kenai. Unfortunately, Service news releases and background information regarding the current abundance of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula inaccurately indicate a finite, static bear population. In other words, it’s like we had a bank account of 600 bears in 2010 and there have been no new ones coming into the account and every bear killed is a net loss to the account. It is important to recognize that while there has been harvest of bears there has also been recruitment to the population through birth. In fact, in many Alaska brown bear populations, increased harvest of adult males results in increased cub survival and potentially increased sub-adult survival. We are working with service biologists to develop more accurate models to predict population trends under various harvest scenarios and expect to have that work completed by the time the Board of Game meets to consider harvest regulations this spring. In the meantime, we do not agree with the Service’s decision to take management action based on an inaccurate method of predicting population effects. In summary, the State of Alaska believes state harvest regulations are sufficiently conservative to ensure the long-term sustainability of the brown bear population on the Kenai Peninsula, and disagrees with the Service’s decision to restrict hunting opportunity.