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Alaska Regional Director Responds To Outrage Over Katmai Preserve Bear Hunt

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Brown Bear in Katmai Preserve; Daniel Zatz photographer.

Brown Bear in Katmai Preserve; Daniel Zatz photographer.

The Katmai bear video has been one of the most-viewed posts on National Parks Traveler, being viewed more than 4,000 times in less than a week. It has generated anguish, anger, and controversy. Against this backdrop, Alaska Regional Director Marcia Blaszak has taken a moment to explain the National Park Service's viewpoint of how to manage the bear hunt in Katmai National Preserve. - The editors

Dear National Park Friend:

In the past week, we have received and read a significant number of comments regarding bear hunting in Katmai National Preserve. While I do not expect to change views on this matter, in the next few paragraphs I do hope to explain the position of the National Park Service, including some of the research which guides us and the limits to federal action.

Katmai National Preserve was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. It mandated, in Section 202, that this area be managed for “high concentrations of brown/grizzly bears.” Section 203 provides that sport hunting in national preserves shall be permitted. Sport hunting is regulated by the State of Alaska.

Research by state and federal biologists show that the density of bears in the preserve is high. This August, three survey flights over the preserve produced an average count of 279 bears, with a high of 329 in one instance. Because you never see every bear, this translates into an estimated population of about 581 bears in the preserve, or more than one bear for every square mile. A similar count in August 2006 showed an estimated preserve population of 331 bears and an average count during three flights of 159 bears. Researchers have also seen a high proportion of single bears, another fact reflective of a healthy, high density population.

Hunting takes place the fall of odd-numbered years and in the spring of even-numbered years. During the last open fall-spring hunt, 35 bears were taken. This translates to an annual harvest rate of no more than 5 percent, considered by biologists to be conservative harvest.

The bear population in the preserve (and in the neighboring national park and state lands) is mobile and individual bears move from areas where hunting is legal to areas where hunting is prohibited. Food supply is among the factors in this movement. As a result of this movement over many miles and often among jurisdictions they may also move from where they are relatively easily seen by bear-viewing visitors or biologists to areas where they are less likely to be seen. This means counts will necessarily be approximations, and that observations at different times of the year and in different locations will result in varying data. Our management, and that of the state Department of Fish and Game, takes mobility, variations in food supply and counting techniques into account by looking at population numbers over a large area and over time and not at the numbers of bears in a particular location.

The seasons, harvest limits and other regulations regarding the hunt are established by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Board of Game, a group appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Alaska Legislature. These regulations define “ethical” in a regulatory sense, and it is those rules which we and the State of Alaska enforce.

Alaskans and others may talk to their elected and appointed officials about the hunting rules they want to see on public land. When Congress last spoke on the issue, it mandated that sport hunting was legal in Alaska’s national preserves and that absent extraordinary circumstances, hunting would be managed by the State of Alaska.

Some commenters also described their views that bears in the preserve are used to seeing people through the summer, including fishermen and bear viewers. It is true that bear viewing has grown as an activity over the last several years. Bears have also been the targets of hunters on the Alaska Peninsula for decades, including the period since the establishment of the national preserve in 1980. Our experience with bears indicates that there is significant variation in the tolerance level which bears have of humans, regardless of the activity in which people are engaged.

The National Park Service will continue to closely monitor the population of bears in Katmai, as well as scrutinize harvest levels and other visitor activities. We appreciate your concern for the park and its resources and welcome your continued participation in the public process.

Marcia Blaszak
NPS Alaska Regional Director

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Comments

Anonymous (Sept 14 '08)

Hey, the most recent comment preceding yours is from last November - almost a year ago. There was a whole bunch of other comments, and we can't tell which one you are responding to.

The original post says straight out:

"During the last open fall-spring hunt, 35 bears were taken. This translates to an annual harvest rate of no more than 5 percent, considered by biologists to be conservative harvest." (emph. added)

... So they obviously are not killing all "big healthy bears", as you say.

Alaska bear populations have been hunted for a long time, and there is no runting or other diminution of the resource.

We understand that some folks do not like or approve of hunting, either as a general rule or as pertains to certain species, or within certain habitats. It is clear from your comment that you are passionate. Please gather your good arguments together, make clear which other commenter you are addressing, and tell us more about your position & views.

Thank you!


Real man huh? I would love to walk within feet of a bear rather then live anywhere near your inconsiderate self. The point is there is no sport in murder. If they need to be thinned out let the state decide which bears need to be shot. You just want that bear trophy to hang on your chair like miss Sara. Kill all the big healthy bears and leave the rest, soon there will be nothing left on earth but sick and scared animals for you killers to hunt down. Maybe then you won't be interested in killing any more.


Alaska public radio ran a piece on the bear hunt on Katmai. There were a number of people giving their take including, bear biologists and even a trophy hunter who unanimously feel the bear hunt out on Katmai was very unethical and really was not hunting , but killing or harvesting. you can listen to the piece by going to www.akradio.org/archive open the "Mixed Signals" 11/24/2007 segment and scroll to the (7) min. and that's where the story begins.


For anyone who would like to get a better visual of the bears milling around the lake and camps where the hunters are set-up go to www.scottdickerson.com he's a photographer that took many still images of the so-called bear hunt on Katmai. I think his images help to further drive home how simple it was for the hunters to walk up to the bears and shoot!!


Just a quote from Director Bomar to make people think ...
QUOTE
the director went on to say that throughout her Park Service career she has "worked with archaeologists, historians, biologists ... and often we don't sit down and listen to their information that they've gathered."
UNQUOTE


Living with Bears, there are people writing comments who are native Alaskans and have years of experience living with bears and spending time out on Katmai. I personally get my information from many of these people some of them bear biologists. I have also been coming to Alaska for many years and some years twice. Over the past 8-9 years there has been a steady decline in bear numbers in GMU 9C 703 and I get some of that information by spending time out there year after year. When I'm out on Katmai, I trek for miles every day. How many of those wealthy bear hunters do you think are Alaskan natives? I bet NONE!! My family and I spend double the amount of money each and evry year on Alaska's economy than any bear hunter and it's already been pointed out to you that Katmai National Preserve is a public park and I've paid my park dues. you just read the comment from FACT, a native Alaskan who stated plenty of facts for you. I'm currious where you get your factual information? of course being the wife of a bear hunting guide your's must be the most accurate!! You don't have to have cancer to know it's bad and wrong. Once again pay attention to the isses people are upset about.. shooting the bears while they're still at th their dinner table. Moving the hunting season up to October one was the stupidist thing that could have been done. Most are not asking for the bear hunting to be stopped, just moved away from this region.


Living with Bears. I do live in Alaska, in Fact I was born here. Where are you from. I have spent over Twenty years in the Katmai Park and Preserve. In all that time have never seen an over population of Brown Bears. Just a declining population, more so since 1999 when the hunting season was moved forward. Katmai Park was set-up in 1918 by President Teddy Rosevelt to protect the Brown Bears. The Presrve was laidout in 1981 as part of ANLCA. The way that the bear counts are done there is NO science to it. They fly a pattern and if they see ten bears they say there must be fifty. ( Using thier formula). The higher the supposed bear numbers the more they can kill. The Katmai Preserve is about 300 sq. miles. GMU 9C 703 is about 25 sq. miles. Let the hunters go to the far west end of the Preserve where the bears are not as use to being close to humans.


Dear "Living with bears",

Let's assume for a second that we need to manage the bear population in Katmai National Park. Who should do that? Trained experts or the highest bidder?


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