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FAIRBANKS - Tony Hollis can tell a lot about a bear just by looking at its hide, teeth, nose and ears.
The big black bear that Roger Piek brought in on a recent morning, for example, had several scars on its nose, including a fresh one in the form of a small hole on the end of its snout.
"This one has been fighting this year already," Hollis said, examining the small wound. "It's pretty common to see scars on faces."
Hollis turned his attention to the bear's mouth. While Piek estimated the bear's age at 6, Hollis said it was considerably older.
"I'd say somewhere closer to 15," Hollis speculated, checking the bear's teeth.
"Really?" Piek said.
"Yep, look at his teeth," Hollis said, propping up the bear's skinned skull. "He's missing a tooth in the front here and they're all busted up back here," Hollis said, examining the bear's molars.
As a wildlife technician and head bear sealer for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Hollis gets to check out his fair share of bear hides and skulls.
Hunters who shoot a bear anywhere along the road system are required to bring the hide and skull in to be "sealed" within 30 days of the kill. The seal consists of two small, red numbered metal tags that are attached to the hide and skull. The seals must remain in place until the hide is tanned and the skull is boiled.
The requirement allows Fish and Game to keep track of bear harvest and hunting pressure along the Interior road system, where most of the hunting takes place.
"It's our one and only way of knowing what the harvest is because (hunters) don't need a harvest ticket," Hollis said.
It only takes Hollis 10 or 15 minutes to go through the entire process but he gathers a wealth of information in that short time.
Fish and Game also is able to determine the sex and ages of bears through the sealing process. Hunters are required to leave evidence of sex on the hide and a tooth is pulled to age the bear. That information is used to determine composition of males and females in the harvest.
In addition to evidence of sex, Hollis also checks for any indication that the bear has been captured by state or federal wildlife biologists, such as ear tags or tattoos.
The sealing process also gives Fish and Game an idea where hunting pressure is directed. Hunters are asked where they hunted, how they got there (i.e. four-wheeler, foot, boat, airplane, horse, etc.) and if they used bait.
The hunter, Piek, said he just got lucky. He had hiked two miles to a friend's bear bait stand off the Steese Highway and was about to shoot a smaller bear when the bigger one showed up.