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FAIRBANKS - Hunters took only two of the 81 grizzly bears targeted in Alaska's first predator-control program aimed at grizzlies.
The state Department of Fish and Game issued 111 permits for the targeted area in Game Management Unit 20E near Tok. Of those permit holders, 43 registered a total of 70 bait stations. Permit holders were allowed to register up to two bait stations apiece.
Fish and Game officials aren't sure how many permit holders actually hunted or put out bait.
"If we issued 111 permits and only three people went out and hunted and two bears were taken, that's a pretty high success rate," said agency spokeswoman Cathie Harms. "If a whole bunch of people went out and only took two bears, we may have to re-evaluate it."
The Alaska Board of Game added grizzly bears to the state's predator hit list this year when it voted to let hunters bait grizzly bears in part of Game Management Unit 20E near Tok, the first time that practice has been made legal in Alaska. It's part of an ongoing attempt in different parts of the state to boost moose and caribou populations.
The state has issued permits allowing hunters to shoot wolves from planes or to land and shoot them in different parts of the state the past two years, including the area where grizzly bear baiting was allowed.
Four other grizzly bears were killed in unit 20E as part of general season hunts, bringing to six the number of bears taken this spring.
An estimated 135 grizzly bears inhabit the 2,681-square mile area of Unit 20E where baiting was allowed. The harvest quota for the control program was set at 81 bears.
Critics of the state's predator-control activities say the low grizzly harvest is an indication that there aren't as many bears there as estimated, a claim they have contended holds true with wolves, also.
Aerial gunners killed 276 wolves in five different parts of the state this past winter that were designated for wolf control by the state Board of Game. The harvest objective was 570 wolves.
"As with wolves, the state has clearly inflated the number of bears believed to be in that area or more would have been taken," said Karen Deatherage of Defenders of Wildlife. "It's definitely a reasonable conclusion. Bears are a lot harder to count than wolves."