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.
NPS Alaska Regional Director