A black bear waits in a tree in Anchorage in June 2006. The Department of Fish and Game wants to boost moose numbers in game unit 16 through "an attempt to take as many black bears as possible. Guns, bows and bait, whatever they want," says Suzan Bowen, a Game Board program coordinator.
Beginning this summer, Alaska hunters can kill as many black bears as they like in an area near Anchorage -- including sows and cubs -- as long as they get a free permit under Alaska's predator-control program.
Wildlife managers want to kill 900 to 1,400 black bears in the 11,000-square-mile area across Cook Inlet northwest of Anchorage because the bears are eating too many moose, said Suzan Bowen, Department of Fish and Game regulations program coordinator. The state estimates there are as many as 2,000 bears in the area.
The state doesn't call it hunting. Instead, the extraordinary measure is a predator-control program where fair-chase and other hunting ethics don't apply, Bowen said.
"This is an attempt to take as many black bears as possible," Bowen said. "Guns, bows and bait, whatever they want."
An official with at least one hunting group, however, criticized the program and said the state may have overestimated the black bear numbers.
The Game Board created the new program during its meeting last month. It becomes effective July 1. The killing will take place on the western end of the lower Susitna River and around such river drainages as the Yentna, Skwenta, Kahiltna and Deshka in game unit 16.
The bear permit will be part of the aerial wolf-kill program in that area, Bowen said. Gunners and hunters with aerial wolf-kill permits are allowed to kill wolves from planes.
In its effort to increase bear kills in the area, the Game Board, among other things, will also allow land-and-shoot black bear killing. Hunters can find bears from the air and kill them shortly after landing. The hunter must be at least 300 feet from the aircraft.
The state currently allows hunters only three black bears a year in the area. That hunt will still exist so that out-of-state hunters can take bears, Bowen said.
Moose numbers in the area have been low for years, though there is plenty of browse for them to eat, said Game Board chairman Cliff Judkins. Information compiled by state biologists shows that bears kill a "staggering percentage" of moose calves, he said.
"I'm certain there will be some public concern, but doggone it, how else do you get this balance back?" said Judkins. "To do it, we have to reduce the bear population" by killing sows and cubs.
Black bears number 1,500 to 2,000 in the western unit 16B, the state estimates. Biologists want only 600 black bears left, Bowen said. Once that goal is met, the program will end, she said.
Moose number about 3,200 to 4,000 in that unit, the state estimates.
Biologists want 6,500 to 7,500 moose, Bowen said.
Moose hunters there have been limited to only Tier II hunts -- the state's most restricted hunt -- for several years, Bowen said. About 1,000 people applied for the permits there last year, with only 360 getting the chance to hunt, she said.
The looser rules for black bear hunting are likely unprecedented in Alaska history, Bowen said. They will be an exception to regulations prohibiting hunters from killing black bear cubs and sows accompanying cubs.
Big-game hunts without bag limits in Alaska are rare. Hunters can get as many caribou as they want on Adak Island in the Aleutians, where the animals have no natural predators, and Kodiak Island. The state allows unlimited killing of several small animals, such as squirrels and mice, too.
Officials will meet soon to discuss details of the new program, Bowen said. Applicants must have a hunting license and be Alaska residents.
They probably will have to be 16 or older, she said.
Aaron Bloomquist, Anchorage Fish and Game Advisory Committee chairman, said the looser rules probably won't boost black bear kills in the area much.
More than 100 people already fly there each year to kill bears, he said.
Hundreds more travel up rivers. Most hunters have their hands full just trying to kill three bears a year. Under the new program, hunters will still have to bring in skulls and hides for sealing, he said.
The new rules are a step in the right direction, though, Bloomquist said. Black bears also need to be reduced elsewhere, and the only way to do that is to kill sows, he said. There are more than 100,000 black bears in Alaska, the state has estimated.
"I don't know if the board can really put a dent in the black bear population (anywhere), but in this case they've done pretty much everything they can short of hiring a trapper or killer of some sort,"
Dave Lyon, co-chairman of Alaska Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, said his group has reviewed the information the Game Board used to make its decision and doesn't support the bear killing.
"It's crummy science," he said, arguing that the state's black bear estimates could be inflated.
He also doesn't expect a huge jump in black bear kills.
"Most folks who want to kill a black bear can find a lot easier ways to do it," he said, such as setting up bait stations on the Kenai Peninsula.
Daily News reporter Alex deMarban can be reached at email@example.com or 257-4310.
More Details: http://www.boards.adfg.state.ak.us/gameinfo/meetsum/2006-2007/2007sum.pdf