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Alaska Regional Director Responds To Outrage Over Katmai Preserve Bear Hunt

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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Yet another ignorant comment, made by someone who does not even begin to address the issue here. Please Mr PhD the issue isn't about thinning the population of bears and I'm surprized that this is the only comment you can make. If you truly have a PhD you should have understood what the real issue is? You're damn right people are getting emotional!! once again we have to explain to another ignorant person that it's not about hunting the bears it's about the cruel and unethical way you hunters are doing it Du" please re-read the issue that's become an Outrage and then try to make an intelligent comment!!

Dr. Gerald-

It appears that you also have totally missed the point and that you also have not taken a few moments from your precious schedule to do the investigating research required, thereby enabling yourself to obtain the proper persepective regarding the issue at hand. We're not talking science. We're talking ethical hunting practices. Or in language that you should be familiar with, this falls into one of the many grey areas in the studies and practices of bio-ethics. You want to kill bears, then go ahead and kill bears......that is NOT the issue we've been debating. I am not a hunter, but neither do I interfere with those who choose, within the bounds of the law, to partake of the annual deer, pheasant, duck, squirrel, pigeon, moose, bear, wildebeast, water buffalo, abalone, clam, platypus, kangaroo, penquin, mole, etc. seasons. For the most part I'm assuming, which is always a dangerous thing to do when dealing with people and firearms, these legitimate hunters make annual purchases of various licenses, and I would hope, have the decency to abide by the rules and regulations set forth governing proper usage and restrictions pertinent to their respective permits. I am not anti-hunting, a "liberal tree hugger environmentalist", whatever that is, animal rights activist, or least of all, scientifically ignorant, doctor. Our two Ph.D's put together, all the years in academia, the publications, the long hours of study, research and data analysis mean absolutely nothing to anyone, much to your chagrin I'm sure, due to the simple fact that nobody is questioning the scientific reasoning, field reports, data acquisition and analysis of those data as they pertain to the issue of the permits! I did indeed write that I was curious to know how the numbers were determined, but NEVER did I question or make any statement to the effect of banning the issuance of the permits. I did mention that the latest groups of "hunters" were improperly sanctioned, and in no small fashion carried out their pursuits in a dangerous locale, too near areas that are regularly traversed by hikers, campers, wildlife enthusiasts, and other humans.

Please help our profession retain a shred of dignity and be more prepared with your critiques in the future.

Lone Hiker
Ph.D. Biotechnology, Biochemistry

Wow! This one really got everyone's blood boiling.

This bear hunt looked astronomically more humane to me than the chickenhouses, dairy farms, and pig slaughter houses that I've seen. Like they say, some days you eat the bear; some days the bear eats Treadwell. Nature, she's a real beeee-yatch.

I recall a quote from a ranger at Yosemite implying the likelyhood that more bears were killed by speeding motorists than were killed by throphy and gallbladder poachers. From my experience as a ranger, this seems very likely. In fact, the more weather-beaten my "Smokey Bear Stetson" became, the more I began to realize that I could save more of the park's wildlife by aggressively enforcing speeding regulations that I could do by hiding in the bushes looking for illegal hunting activity. Then, when my flat hat got even more sun-faded, I began to realize that a little population culling wasn't the end of the world. Maggots and Turkey Vultures got to eat too.

Look, I'm a vegetarian who doesn't have the heart to kill spiders I find in my house, but I would have to travel to Katamai, study up on the dynamics of the bear population there, and look at options on how to allow hunting without adversly impacting the nonhunting visitor's experience before I could judge the NPS in this situation.

I am an outdoorsman whom hunts and fishes. I do not believe this is a true "hunt" and it should be managed better. I doubt there is any shortage of bears to view there or any other part of this state. If the powers that be think a certain amout of animals need to be removed, than it should be done by professionals and not the general hunting public. Then people like Bob and the non hunting public that want to use the park do not have to see a poorly run "so called hunt". This is not hunting as it should be but rather a mislabeled bear shopping spree. True hunters prefer to spend their time and effort earning a chance at chosen species where there is some value and honor and respect at the end of a trip. I agree there should be something changed about this event.

Regarding Alaska Regional Director Marcia Blaszak’s comments. I find it interesting that she failed to mention the “blood money” the National Park Service receives from this trophy hunt (shoot).

Yes, the hunting guide in the video has a multi-year concessions contract to conduct this hunt in the Katmai Preserve with National Park Service and pays a portion of his guiding fees to the Park Service. So the more bears his clients kill, the more the Park Service makes. Isn’t that convenient?

Instead she wants to believe everything is fine in Katmai and redirect the agreement to surveys and data. This issue is NOT about surveys or data, it’s about human habituated bears, hunting ethics and “fair chase” or lack thereof, didn’t she see the video.

As a resident of New York City that does not have the benifit of wildlife (unless you consider the rats) I saw the video on You Tube and my jaw just dropped. Are you kidding me? We have a term here 'shooting fish in a barrel' which means the prey have no chance. That "hunt" remined me of that saying. When did Alaskans give up the idea of the need for sport when it comes to hunting? The reply here indicates that this is not a requirement and I am looking forward to telling my friends on the Today Show and the New York Times show about this video. TV Networks love stories like this since they, like me, are based in a place with zero nature and stories about places that abuse it are highly sought.

We appreciate your concern for the park and its resources and welcome your continued participation in the public process.

Ms. Blaszak's final statement is telling. It reflects the National Park Service's continued economic mentality toward life. "Concern for the park and its resources. . ." By labeling such a magnificent creature as the brown bear as a "resource", the NPS diminishes a life form, considered sacred by some, to property or wealth or money owned by the superior human race, to be "managed" by an unfeeling, uncaring, self-serving bureaucracy.

Public process? More Newspeak. There is no public process here! The public has been completely shut out of the process, and the bureaucratic monster refuses to listen or to change course even in the face of such an overwhelming public outcry.

Shame on Ms. Blaszak and the National Park Service for not listening to the People and for murdering bears. Shame on you!

I wonder if she's referring to the public process of voicing opinions sure to be ignored or the public process of game management? Sorry, I couldn't resist.......

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