Katmai National Park And Preserve Officials Reviewing Sport Hunting Guidelines

Trophy hunters often don't have to range far to find a brown bear to kill in Katmai National Preserve. Scott Dickerson file photo, used with permission.

National Park Service officials are reviewing their sport hunting guidelines for Katmai National Preserve, where some have compared hunting brown bears to shooting fish in a barrel.

Though hunting is allowed by law in the preserve, some believe that stalking the bears, which for much of the summer and early fall are accustomed to visitors stalking them with cameras, not guns, is far from "fair chase."

Four years ago we brought you a video that touched more than a few nerves in that it showed hunters practically walking right up to bears before shooting them. The subject raised the question of whether the preserve's bear hunt was really sporting or ethical. While the resulting uproar died down, it's creeping up again as Park Service officials seek public comment on a proposal to allow two sport-hunting guide businesses to operate in the preserve.

Because sport hunting is a congressionally authorized use of the preserve, all options in the environmental assessment that park officials will begin work on next month will propose that guided sport hunting continue in a way "that does not result in significant environmental impacts to park resources and values, including the brown bear population, other users, wilderness character, or subsistence uses," the agency said in a prepared statement.

Currently, the preserve is divided into two guide areas. The larger area is without a concessioner and could accommodate up to 25 clients annually, according to park officials. The second (smaller) guide area has a current concessioner in place that might take up to three hunting clients into the preserve annually under a contract that expires at the end of 2012.

Public comment on the EA is planned for spring of 2012. A prospectus is planned to go out later in 2012. Competitively selected concessioners would most likely be authorized to begin taking clients under the provisions of the new contract(s) by the fall 2013 hunting season. Guided hunters generally seek to take brown bears and moose, although other species may be hunted.

Officials for the National Parks Conservation Association, which had pushed the Park Service to conduct the assessment, were happy the public would get a chance to comment on the hunting regulations.

"For years, we've worked closely with NPS on trying to influence how the state of Alaska manages the Katmai Preserve brown bear hunt and with this announcement it's great to see NPS recognizing that they, too, have a direct role in managing the bear hunt through the terms and conditions of these two guided hunting concessions," said Jim Stratton, NPCA's Alaska and Pacific Northwest regional director. "This EA will get the public engaged in that very discussion as part of the larger equation to ensure a natural and healthy population of brown bears for all park users."

Hunting and trapping in the 418,000 acre preserve were authorized by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1980, although guided hunting took place for decades before the preserve's establishment. Hunting takes place in accordance with State of Alaska general season (sport) hunting laws and regulations in addition to the overall NPS requirements to conserve park resources and values in perpetuity.

Alaska hunting regulations require non-resident brown bear hunters to either use the services of licensed hunting guides or hunt with a close relative who is an Alaska resident. Hunt guide concession operations provide the means for U.S. citizens who are not Alaska residents, as well as non-citizens, to access national preserves for general season (sport) hunting.

Katmai National Preserve is managed by the same staff which manages Katmai National Park. National preserves in Alaska are administered and managed in the same manner as national parks except that the taking of fish and wildlife and trapping are allowed under applicable state and federal law and regulation. The NPS manages commercial services that are consistent with enabling legislation in a manner that is complementary to the NPS mission and visitor service objectives.