The Board of Game addressed several issues affecting the Kenai Peninsula during its meeting in Anchorage, including the fall brown bear hunt, a youth hunt in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, and reauthorizations of antlerless moose hunts.
Jeff Selinger, the Soldotna area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said he was pleased to see the board change the peninsula's brown bear hunt - which has been canceled in three of the last five years due to human-caused bear mortalities - from a registration hunt format to a drawing hunt.
"The main drive for a lot of this is instead of having bears being shot for defense of life and property issues, we can try to allow the bears to be harvested," Selinger said.
Selinger said the drawing for brown bear permits will be conducted in May. While the department still is planning exactly how many permits will be issued, Selinger said he envisions dividing the peninsula into five sections. The greatest number of permits would be issued near population centers - where the majority of defense of life and property kills also occur - while a few permits will be issued for the peninsula's more remote areas, such as the area between Tustumena and Skilak lakes.
Once a permit is drawn, it will be good for the whole regulatory year, from July 1 to June 30. Selinger said that if recent defense of life and property trends continue, the fall portion of the hunt, from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30, will be closed by emergency order. However, the department starts its count of human-caused bear mortalities on Jan. 1, and permit-winners would have an opportunity to hunt during the spring season, from April 1 through June 15.
"What we're trying to do is come up with a responsible way to manage our brown bear population. Managing through DLP kills is not a responsible way to accomplish that. There's better ways to utilize our resources," Selinger said.
Selinger stressed that peninsula residents should not be lax about leaving things out, such as garbage or pet food, that might attract bears into a neighborhood. Instead, the new hunt format will be a part of a comprehensive community conservation effort.
"If we can get the peninsula as a whole to buy into the concept, we'll have a chance to manage our bears more responsibly," Selinger said.
Kenai Peninsula brown bears still are listed as a population of special concern. That designation is not related to the federal threatened and endangered list, and while some of the reasons peninsula bears have that designation are no longer valid, Selinger said there still are enough red flags to warrant the special attention.
"The main issues are potential habitat fragmentation from development, and a growing human population," Selinger said.
Selinger said the game board spent a great deal of time discussing proposals for a small-game hunt in the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The board approved a hunt in that area in 2005, but those regulations were not compatible with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's management plan for the area.
Fish and Wildlife submitted a hunting proposal for the area to the game board this year that would allow a nine-day, shotgun-only small-game youth hunt in the area between November and March, in addition to the bow hunting season already on the books.
The board amended the proposal to allow the use of rim-fire rifles for shooting hares, and to change the season to start Oct. 15 and run through December.
Selinger said it is now up to the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the amended proposal fits within the new Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area management plan.
"They (the game board) understood where we were coming from with our plan, but we're a little disappointed that they didn't act on our proposal," said Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Manager Robin West.
West said the next step would be Fish and Game and Fish and Wildlife leadership to get together to discuss the plan and continue to work through the board process.
"The board isn't bound by the management plan, but Fish and Wildlife is," West said.
The game board also reauthorized antlerless moose hunts on the peninsula. Currently, Fish and Game manages two such hunts on the peninsula, one in the Homer vicinity, and one in the Skilak area. Selinger said certain population conditions must be met before a Skilak hunt can be authorized, but the board's action gives the department the ability to authorize a hunt should those conditions be met.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.