Board of Game considers first brown bear kill ever

Proposal to eliminate 300 wolves near Tok also under consideration

Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2004

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Board of Game is considering a plan that would result in more than two dozen brown bears and 300 wolves being killed in the eastern Interior.

The board is meeting in Juneau from Monday through Friday.

The wolf kill program for game units 12 and 20E, which extend north and south from Tok, would likely be similar to others approved by the Game Board in recent years. Those programs utilize private pilots to shoot the animals from the air or shortly after landing.

The program near Tok, however, could be the first time the board authorizes the killing of brown or grizzly bears. Studies have shown bears can be substantial predators of moose and caribou calves.

The board could approve methods that are currently illegal for brown bear hunters, including allowing pilots to spot bears from the air, then land and shoot.

If the board approves the killing of grizzlies, there is bound to be a public outcry.

"Bringing grizzly bears into the equation is a whole new, extremely controversial issue," said Matt Robus, wildlife director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Robus said Fish and Game is suggesting a conservative approach because brown bears reproduce slowly.

Predator control has blossomed since Gov. Frank Murkowski was elected in 2002. Last winter, pilots around McGrath and in the Nelchina Basin northeast of Anchorage killed 144 wolves. This winter, the take could range from 350 to 500 as the program expands to include additional areas on the Kuskokwim River and the Skwentna River west of Anchorage.

The Game Board this week will consider extending predator control to two additional game management areas covering nearly 21,000 square miles in the upper Yukon/Tanana drainage. In recent years, hunters in units 12 and 20E have shot 275 moose a season, far short of the state's harvest goal of 750 to 1,450 animals.

The region has adequate vegetation to support more moose, state biologists say, but bears and wolves prevent the stock from growing. A 1984 study found wolves killed 12 percent to 15 percent of moose calves, while grizzly bears killed 52 percent.

If the Game Board approves predator control, it will determine how many of the areas' estimated 425-450 wolves and 825-975 grizzly bears will be killed, and what means are used.

The board created a statewide predator control plan for bears last spring that allows for trapping and killing sows and cubs. But for the program being discussed this week, biologists propose to allow only bear baiting and land-and-shoot hunting. The program would likely be limited to calving areas, where the estimated bear population is about 80.

In a draft plan, Fish and Game proposes killing fewer than 30 of them. Biologists suggest leaving at least 110 wolves in the two areas, which could mean a harvest of more than 300. The board could allow aerial or land-and-shoot methods.

Board chairman Mike Fleagle said he expects the board will approve some type of predator control, but he wouldn't speculate on the final program.

"It looks like we'll start at a small level and not just go too broad right off the bat," he said.

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