Hunters took only two of the 81 grizzly bears state wildlife managers were
hoping would be harvested as part of the state's first predator-control program
aimed at grizzlies, but state wildlife officials with the Alaska Department of
Fish and Game aren't disappointed.
"I think the important thing we have to do is look at effort," said Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms.
The state issued 111 permits to take grizzly bears in a portion of Game Management Unit 20E near Tok and 43 of those permit holders registered a total of 70 bait stations. Permit holders were allowed to register up to two bait stations.
But Fish and Game officials aren't sure how many permit holders actually hunted or put out bait for grizzly bears.
"If we issued 111 permits and only three people went out and hunted and two bears were taken, that's a pretty high success rate," said Harms. "If a whole bunch of people went out and only took two bears, we may have to re-evaluate it."
In an ongoing attempt to boost moose and caribou populations in different parts of the state, the state Board of Game added grizzly bears to the state's predator hit list this year when it voted to let hunters bait grizzly bears in part of Game Management Unit 20E near Tok, the first time that practice has been made legal in Alaska.
The state has issued permits allowing hunters to shoot wolves from airplanes or to land and shoot them in different parts of the state the past two years, including the area where grizzly bear baiting was allowed.
Four other grizzly bears were killed in unit 20E as part of general season hunts, bringing to six the number of bears taken this spring. That's only one or two more than is normally taken in the spring, said biologist Jeff Gross in Tok.
Biologists estimate that 135 grizzly bears inhabit the 2,681-square mile area of Unit 20E where baiting was allowed. The harvest quota for the control program was set at 81 bears.
"It's not a failure if we don't get that many," said Harms. "You have to set a range and that was the upper end of the range.
"We need to get the permits back and find out what level effort there was we before reach any conclusions," she said.
Critics of the state's predator-control activities say the low grizzly harvest is an indication that there aren't as many bears there as biologists estimated, a claim they have contended holds true with wolves, also. Aerial gunners killed a reported 276 wolves in five different parts of the state this past winter that were designated for wolf control by the state Board of Game. The harvest objective was 570 wolves.
"As with wolves, the state has clearly inflated the number of bears believed to be in that area or more would have been taken," said Karen Deatherage of Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage. "It's definitely a reasonable conclusion. Bears are a lot harder to count than wolves."
News-Miner staff writer Tim Mowry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 459-7587.