A black bear lounges in the sun in an area across Kachemak Bay. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recently took action to allow changes in bear and wolf hunting in the hopes of restoring depleted moose populations in Unit 16B.
Black bear 'intensive management' in Southcentral Alaska will take on new dimensions following two major actions last week by the Alaska Board of Game.
The board authorized use of helicopters to transport those with permits and their equipment to and from camps intended for bait sites. The board also authorized an experimental program, supervised by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G), using foot snares for taking bears.
The area in question is across Cook Inlet in Unit 16B, and includes the village of Tyonek. It stretches to just short of the Lake Clark region.
"The department hopes the board decision adding these tools will help us restore depleted moose populations in Unit 16B," said Corey Rossi, ADF&G Assistant Commissioner, in a public release.
Defenders of Wildlife will continue to monitor the situation, said director Wade Willis. The organization studied the board's proposal before it was debated, and found that expanding the predator program to include snares and chemical poisoning is pushing the boundaries of state management. It's something that hasn't been seen prior to this.
"Note that the ADF&G states that only residents can use choppers," Willis said last week. "But who is checking the residency status of those using choppers?" According to Willis, troopers can't get to the camps because they don't have a chopper, and nobody operating the choppers is required to check.
"No ADF&G representatives, or even contracted 'agents' of the state, are required to be at the bait stations," Willis said. "What is to stop a guy who flies to a camp with a helicopter from walking or riding a four-wheeler out of camp and sport hunting for a variety of species?"
Other changes include the introduction of Proposal 190, which approves the use of poison gas and snares by ADF&G staff to kill wolves. The gas may be used in all six of the predator control program all year long, and includes when young wolves are in the den. Willis said the Defenders of Wildlife find this highly troubling.
"This proposal also authorized the ADF&G to contract with resident or nonresident citizens to kill wolves in the same fashion," Willis said.
The use of helicopters for hunting remains illegal in Alaska by federal law. However, under a special permit for the black bear control program in Unit 16B, Alaska residents may use helicopters on the west side of Cook Inlet, only for the purpose of accessing remote camps in order to remove black bears. Data provided by ADF&G to the board stated that bears are a significant predator of moose calves in Unit 16B.
"These experimental efforts are intended to help restore this once-abundant moose population over the next six to eight years," the release read. "Unit 16B has been closed to nonresident moose hunting for many years. Tier II subsistence hunting permits were also significantly limited in recent years."
Last year, private baiting efforts assisted in the removal of several hundred black bears, primari ly in the Tyonek area. Bears were taken along a primitive road system, as well as along major rivers. The use of helicopters will target bears in early spring, when ice or ground conditions don't allow the use of boats or fixed-wing aircraft in more remote areas. Nonresidents are not eligible to participate in this, or any other, intensive management program.
"The other major source of predation in Unit 16B is wolves," the release continued. "State-permitted pilots have been reducing wolf numbers here for the past four years. Despite some improvements, many years of low calf survival have altered the age structure of the moose population. Until more female calves are able to breed, the improvement will continue to be slow."
Some 16 wolves have been taken from the air this winter in Unit 16B. In the event that private pilots are unsuccessful in reducing wolf numbers sufficiently later this spring, ADF&G staff will be authorized to use helicopters to remove the wolves.
The experimental snaring project will be conducted in portions of Unit 16 where there is little chance of any conflict with other users. Snares have been used for many years by researchers to capture bears, however, this is the fi rst time snares will be allowed for management purposes the state. The board received a presentation by a well-respected Canadian biologist who uses snares to harvest bears routinely in his province. He also gave a demonstration of the spring-loaded snares.
According to Defenders of Wildlife, the board did not advertise the proposed changes as broadly as it should have.
"The goal seems to be keeping the public from reviewing the full proposals," Willis said. "At the moment, I'm working on getting the press and the public aware of these changes."
A hallmark of federal law has been to not allow private helicopters to hunt predators.
"But in this one, bait stations, trap lines, hunting camps - it's all allowed," Willis said. "It's just a stunning, stunning move by the Board of Game."