How Bears Might React To Hunts Outside Alaska

Photo by Paul Atkins

Interesting piece in the Jackson Hole (Wyoming) News and Guide about the impact of hypothetical grizzly bear hunting in Wyoming as potential new regulations are considered in that state and others regarding potential hunting seasons for grizzlies.

Reporter Mike Koshmrl had this to say about Alaska’s bear hunting numbers compared to the Lower 48:

Biologist Rick Sinnott, who spent a career managing wildlife and overseeing grizzly hunts in Alaska, said bear behavior might change, but not overnight.

At the rate of grizzly hunting that’s likely in store for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, any change in how bears use the landscape and interact with people will likely be imperceptible, he said.

“People who are alive now shouldn’t expect to see much difference before they die,” Sinnott said.

He has seen firsthand that intensive grizzly bear hunting can influence the species’ behavior. He pointed to bruins in and around Denali National Park, where they’re protected within park boundaries but actively hunted along the periphery.

“Inside you see grizzly bears about every trip,” Sinnott said. “Sometimes you can see five or 10 on a daylong trip. On the other side you never see them. They don’t make themselves as obvious.

“They say it’s not because they’re shot at and they realize it,” he said. “They’re just not that cognizant. I think it’s more of an evolutionary thing. Hunters tend to shoot the ones that are less wary.”

Nothing bears will fear

In Alaska, hunting for grizzlies and their coastal brown bear cousins is big business. In one recent year highlighted on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s website, hunters killed 1,900 of the estimated 30,000 brown bears statewide.

The number of Alaskan bruins that fell to hunter gunfire that year is therefore about equal to the entire population of grizzlies in the Lower 48. Hunting south of the border is anticipated to be much lighter. Just 17 animals out of about 700, for example, would have been available for hunting in the Yellowstone region’s core had Wyoming, Montana and Idaho pursued grizzly hunts this year.

The numbers reflect on how many brown bears are in Alaska and what a fascinating ecosystem occurs there.