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The Consequences of the Legal Bear Hunt in Katmai

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Map of Katmai National Park and nearby Katmai National Preserve

This map shows the geographically close relationship between the National Park Service managed areas of Katmai National Park (where hunting is illegal) and the Katmai National Preserve (where hunting is regulated by the state of Alaska). For better image detail, click here.

Starting October 1, 2007, the annual fall brown bear hunting season will open for three weeks in Alaska’s Katmai National Preserve. The state of Alaska has set no limit on the number of bears that can be harvested—putting the park’s bear population at risk from over-harvesting.

I bet you’re surprised. Brown bear hunting in a national park site?! Yep, here in Alaska national preserves are just like national parks with one exception: sport hunting is allowed. And in Katmai National Preserve, that hunting includes big, brown bears. Congress recognized that sport hunting should continue in this area when it established the park site as a national preserve. Current hunting regulations allow hunters to take as many bears as they want during the three-week fall hunting season.

But nearly three years ago, I became aware that something was amiss with the brown bear population in Katmai National Preserve. My bear-viewing guide friends in Homer, Alaska, were seeing fewer and fewer bears each year—which are a huge attraction for visitors. The National Parks Conservation Association investigated and found an almost 100% increase in the number of brown bears harvested since 2003 as the probable culprit. Specifically, we found:

  • There has been an observable decline in the number of bears seen in Katmai National Preserve. Bear viewing guides today are seeing one-third the number of bears they were observing 10 years ago.

  • In 2003, Alaska Department of Fish & Game estimated a sustainable harvest for Katmai Preserve at 14 to 18 bears per hunting season (fall and spring hunt combined).
  • Bear harvest was fairly steady until the fall 2003/spring 2004 hunting season when the number of bears harvested doubled to 34 bears, with 35 bears again harvested in the next hunt which occurred in fall 2005/spring 2006.

The National Park Service is directed by Congress to ensure that any hunting that occurs doesn’t negatively impact park resources, such as wildlife. And Congress was very clear that the Park Service was to manage Katmai for “high concentrations” of brown bears. That’s the language included in the Alaska Lands Act that expanded Katmai and created the preserve.

Alarmed by the research that revealed over-harvesting at Katmai, local bear-viewing guides, photographers, the Park Service, and conservation groups, including NPCA, all provided comments on proposals at the Alaska Board of Game’s meeting in March 2007 to reduce the number of bears harvested during the hunting season.

At this meeting, the Park Service suggested a couple of ways to get a handle on the bear harvest: reduce the season and/or limit the number of hunters. Since the state of Alaska issues the hunting licenses, it would be pretty difficult for the Park Service to limit hunters through any kind of permit system tied to a license, but they can certainly shorten the season as a strategy to reduce the number of bears killed.

But the Board of Game ignored all of our proposals for action in Katmai National Preserve. Is this good park management? We don’t think so.

So today, NPCA, bear-viewing guides, former Board of Game members, and others sent a letter to the Alaska regional office of the Park Service [PDF] asking it to do nothing more than the agency already asked of the state of Alaska in March.

Of course, we’re not holding our breath. Even though the Park Service recognized a problem and wrote detailed comments to the Board of Game asking that the hunting levels be reduced, they are now reluctant to buck the state of Alaska.

Moreover, the Park Service has told us that there isn’t enough scientific data to show that 1) There is a problem and, 2) Hunting is the cause. This graph illustrates our concern. But something is clearly amiss and the Park Service should take a precautionary approach to managing Katmai Preserve bears. We feel it is incumbent upon the Park Service to do something about the harvest this fall.

What comes after this fall? We’ve also asked the Park Service to begin a collaborative management plan with the state of Alaska that defines “high concentrations” of brown bears and then tightly manages the bear hunt to ensure that high concentrations continue. The state has developed a bear management plan for Kodiak Island that serves as a good model for how to manage for specific population goals. In the meantime, however, the hunt continues at Katmai and we can only hope that the localized brown bear population doesn’t get hammered any further while the Park Service tries to figure out what it can do.

Jim Stratton
Senior Director, NPCA Alaska Regional Office

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Comments

Let me start by saying that I consider myself a hunter. I have no problem with well managed and regulated hunting taking place in national preserves in Alaska, so long as it is in keeping with the stated mandates and intent of ANILCA. I agree with Jim Stratton insofar as the need for the National Park Service to take a greater role in setting bag limits and general management of the KNP bear population. It is interesting to note the fairly rapid increase in bear harvests in the preserve coincides with growing incursions of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) into the preserve. Prior to 1990, ATV incursions into the northern preserve were extremely rare and actively discouraged by the park. This policy was largely abandoned after this time, and ATVs became increasingly common. Most incursions originate north and west of the preserve boundary. ATV access allows bear hunters to travel well beyond the confines of lakes and rivers. Hunters on foot rarely walk more than a mile from their basic means of transportation in search of game. Traveling via ATV tremendously extends their effective hunting range and opens areas previously largely untouched. As the data suggests, bear the size and make up of the affected bear population is being affected. It is also possible that bears may be avoiding traditional concentration sites. In addition to changing the timing of the hunt and possibly setting lower harvest limits, management should consider the possibility of placing limits on motorized access for certain areas during the hunting season. A 2-to-4 mile radius around key bear concentration sites might help to rebuild bear populations and increase opportunities for bear viewing. This would not prevent hunters from walking or even paddling into such zones in search of bears.


I do not support hunting of bears. It is like if we have superiors over us , are we happy to be just killed and be hunted???? Hunting lower species is a pure sign of weakness. So rubbish....it's not a sport anyway.


i am no expert on hunting animals but i believe that it is flatly cruel. It is the major reason for the extinction of many animals and it also the reason we dont have variatio of animals any more as to prevent animals from extinctiont they are selectively breed.


In my youth I was an avid hunter and I can attest to the attraction of the
sport. The tracking, the beauty of the woods, finding the animal and making
a clean kill. These things can be challenging and take skill, especially when
done with a bow. The animal populations being hunted knew they were being
hunted which further extended the challenge. The slaughter at Katmai in no way resembles anything that my riends and I would term hunting. This is
similiar to black bears at a dump or deer at a salt lick. I can't help but wonder
how many clean, one shot kills can be made from a helicopter.

As for the shooters; I hope none of them have the temerity to refer to their
kills as trophies. Trophy implies some sort of special achievement and killing
a bear that is oblivious to your presence can hardly be worthy of merit.

With the numbers of the bears dwindling from year to year this population
must be considered at risk and who benefits from further endangering or
eliminating them altogether? Certainly not our children or grandchildren.
Certainly not the state. Eliminate the bears and an entire revenue stream
ceases which in turn will threaten the continuation of other wildlife projects
and jobs.

Though I have not hunted in decades I am not anit-hunting (in the right conditions) nor am I anti gun ownership, but I am anti callous stupidity.


Is hunting baby deer legal?


In this ever-evolving world of political correctness, it was deemed the term "killing" gave the NRA-supported hunting lobby a bad image, so it was they who placed the moniker of "harvesting" animals, acceptable due to the portion of hunting that was engaged in during the fall season. Talk about glossing over the truth.........

I've seen mention of concentrating more on particular species that breed rapidly, so that proper numbers could be maintained for hunters and for the animal to provide it's normal function in the wild. I'll bet anything these same people are going to find it rather difficult at best and unappealing at worst to "harvest" gerbils.......


I believe that the statements are not anti-hunting, but are against unethical hunting. I would guess that ethical hunters enjoy hunting because it provides meat for sustenance and a challenge for the mind and body. What joy or purpose is there in a hunt when the "prey" animals will walk within a few dozen feet of the hunter, totally uncaring of the hunter's presence, and when the hunter leaves the meat behind?


Mike:
I have been an avid hunter in the state of Alaska for over 40 years. The meat that I harvested for my family helped sustain us over the years and I greatly appreciate the fact that I have been allowed to do so. I, however like so many other true hunters and outdoorsmen am soundly against the killing of any and I mean any wild animal that cannot be or will not be consumed.
The thought of taking of these big brown bears for trophy purposes only turns my stomach and it should yours too.


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