I have spent a lot of time on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. It is one of my all-time favorite places to visit. It helps that I have family up there. This year marks a rare occasion when Fish and Game opens the peninsula to an autumn brown bear hunt. From some pictures I’ve been getting, It’s been a good hunt so far. Lots of big bears going down.
Only four years ago, about 40 grizzly bears on the Kenai Peninsula were shot in self defense, run down by cars, poached or killed by authorities after being perceived as dangerous.
This year the number fell to 10, and only one of them was a sow. No one is quite sure why, though wildlife biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are confident it isn’t because there are fewer bears living in the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s 25,600 square miles.
There are enough, they say, that for the first time since 2004, state game officials are handing out registration permits for a Kenai grizzly bear hunt. The hunt opens Oct. 1 and will run until Nov. 30 — or until 10 sows of reproductive age are killed.
The bear season comes toward the end of a year during which just one female brown bear old enough to mate has been killed by what officials call “human causes,” according to state area wildlife biologist Jeff Selinger.
“All indications are that we have a healthy population of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula,” Selinger said.
For the past five years, the only Kenai brown bear hunt involved hunters drawing for permits, a much more restrictive hunt. The highest number of bears taken during those years was five.
Selinger knows interest is high; more than 120 permits were issued the first day they became available last week.
The hunt will not only be restricted by the cap on the number of sows that can be killed but by the climate as well. Kenai brown bears start heading for their dens in October. Sows with cubs, illegal to shoot even if a hunter has a registration permit, are usually the first to den. Big, old bears tend to be the last to take shelter for the winter.
The hope of biologists is that the bulk of the registration-hunt harvest will focus on the old males, which are superfluous to the reproductive needs of a bear population once thought to be in danger of disappearing.
“If hunters take male bears, the hunt will stay open longer,” said Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Gino DelFrate.
How many grizzlies roam the Kenai Peninsula is unknown. For many years, state wildlife biologists relied on an estimate of 200 to 350 animals, though DelFrate called that estimate “way outdated, and probably no longer applicable.”
Surveying brown bears is both costly and difficult in the best of times. “Finding brown objects in a brown forest in the summer is nearly impossible,” DelFrate noted. “Instead, we’re basing our management decisions on what we feel is the health of the population and the productivity of the population. All along, we felt our population was stable to growing.” The Alaska Dispatch
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