ANCHORAGE — Sport hunting of grizzly bears will end Saturday in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge because too many bears have been killed this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday.
The emergency closure will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday on the nearly 3,125-square mile refuge that takes up much of the northern and central areas of the peninsula south of Anchorage, the agency said.
More than 10 percent of Kenai Peninsula grizzlies were killed this year, the agency said. The bears on the Kenai and other Alaska coastal regions rich with salmon are referred to as brown bears to distinguish them from smaller interior and northern Alaska grizzlies.
Grizzly deaths by humans on the Kenai have reached at least 66 bears, the agency said. Hunters killed at least 43 brown bears in spring and summer hunting seasons. Another 23 were killed by people defending property or their lives, by illegal hunting, by vehicles or by the agency destroying problem bears, the agency said.
The entire population on the peninsula was 624, according to the best estimate available, said refuge manager Andy Loranger.
“This level of mortality is not scientifically sustainable,” Loranger said.
A state wildlife official said he was disappointed by the decision.
“The current harvest of bears this year is not unexpected and does not represent a viability concern,” Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement. “Once again, we are faced with overreach by the federal government into the management of Alaska’s wildlife.”
The seven-member citizen state Game Board, which sets bag limits and seasons for game animals, has taken an aggressive stand to expand human consumption of moose and caribou by killing wolves, black bears and grizzly bears.
Grizzlies are slow to reproduce.
The federal agency said at least 22 female brown bears, or 33 percent of the known mortalities, were killed in 2013, more than double previously established limits.
“Survivorship of adult female bears has been shown to be the primary driver of brown bear population dynamics,” said refuge supervisory wildlife biologist John Morton in the announcement. “Losing so many adult female bears will have immediate negative impacts on this population.”
Actual bear deaths by humans are higher than the documented numbers, he said, and must be considered when setting harvest levels.
The emergency closure lasts for 30 days. Public hearings likely will be scheduled before more permanent measures are put in place, Morton said.