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Hunters by the hundreds set sights on Kenai brown bears

Joseph RobertiaRedoubt Reporter
Doug Lindstrand photo

With nearly 600 people participating in a fall brown bear registration hunt — the first in several years on the Kenai Peninsula — it may be an understatement to say those looking to bag a bruin were eager to take to the woods near home in something other than a drawing hunt.

“I knew we’d issue more than the last one, since it’s been a number of years, but 569 is a little higher than anticipated,” said Jeff Selinger, area biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Selinger said the vast majority of the hunters registering by Monday are Kenai Peninsula residents. Only 95 were from other parts of Alaska. Two were nonresidents -- from Nebraska and New York.

Selinger added that people are still signing up daily for the hunt, which has no registration limit. The number of hunters participating could grow further. Sixty days is as long as the hunt can go.

The hunt began Oct. 1. Selinger said registration hunts for brown bears rarely last the full duration. “They tend to be short, generally between two days and a week,” he said.

The last registration hunt for brown bears on the peninsula was in 2004. It only lasted two days, with 274 hunters registering. With so many eager to bag a brown bear, the hunt was closed by emergency order to prevent an over-harvest.

At that time, the management of bruins was on a three-year average, with a goal to not exceed an annual human-caused mortality of more than 20 bears, with an allowed maximum of six female bears older than 1 year.

Since then, the management objectives of Fish and Game have changed. In 2005 the limit went to not exceeding 20 brown bears total for the year, of which not more than eight could be female bears older than 1 year. In 2009 it changed again to not exceeding 10 females of reproductive age.

“The concept … was when we had a confirmed 10 females from all human-caused mortality, counting from Jan. 1, the hunt will close. As of this time, that is what I’ve been instructed to do,” Selinger said.

Up to Oct. 1, a total of 11 brown bears have died on the Kenai this year from human-caused mortalities, three of which were females of reproductive age. Of those:

  • Four were hunter kills. 
  • One was a sow taken during the federal subsistence hunt in September. 
  • Two boars were taken in the spring portion of the drawing permit hunting season. 
  • Another sow was taken in the fall drawing permit season, which ran Sept. 15-30, just prior to the registration hunt opener.

One brown bear was hit and killed by a vehicle. Five were shot and killed in defense of life and property. Two cubs were euthanized by Fish and Game because one of the DLPs involved killing a sow.

“Since Oct. 1, we’ve had another 14 bears die as a result of human-caused mortality, of which six were females of reproductive age, so as of this moment, we’re at nine females for the year,” Selinger said Monday morning.

Of these, seven of the females were taken as part of the hunt and an additional female was killed in a DLP shooting.

Brown bears booming on Kenai? Or not?

The return of a registration hunt came as a result of the Alaska Board of Game making a change to the hunting system during a meeting on statewide regulations last January. The proposal, submitted by the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, requested the change to contend with an increasing number of brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula -- although no census data, past or present, was cited in the proposal to back up the statement.

The findings of the most recent bear census, conducted two years ago by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, have not yet been released. John Morton, a supervisory biologist at the refuge, said last week the results should be released soon.

“We are having the study report being independently reviewed by Outside scientists with expertise in estimating bear populations,” Morton said.  “We recognize that there is strong public interest in the study’s results.”

Many of the bears killed locally in recent years were DLP shootings or killed by Fish and Game staff for public safety concerns. “We believe licensed hunters should have an opportunity to take these bears, instead of department staff or being killed in defense of life or property,” the proposal from the advisory committee states.

Selinger added that the belief by some that there are too many bears on the Kenai Peninsula may contribute to the popularity of the fall hunt.

“Too many bears, people under the assumption that less bears will help increase the moose numbers, and people being frustrated they haven’t been able to hunt brown bears locally for cheap — from the road system, rather than having to fly out somewhere — are all things I’ve been told by people and factors contributing to the number,” he said.

As to how long the hunt will last, Selinger said that time will tell. Brown bears must be sealed at Fish and Game offices in Soldotna, Homer or Anchorage within five days of the kill, but hunters have three days from when they harvest a bear to report it.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Redoubt Reporter, the online news website covering the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. Read his full account here.  Used with permission.