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ADF&G Predator Control Program Provides Bear Meat for Western Interior Villages

Department of Fish and Game staff conducted a predator control program May 13-27 in Game management Unit 19A designed to increase the number of moose and the harvest of moose in the unit. The program was approved by the Board of Game at the request of local hunters concerned about low moose numbers. It is scheduled to be conducted in 2013 and 2014.

ADF&G Staff members removed a total of 89 bears (84 black bears and 5 grizzlies) in a 530 square mile “Bear Control Focus Area” within Game Management Unit 19A which encompasses nearly 10,000 square miles east of Aniak in western interior Alaska. The Bear Control Focus Area is located south of the Kuskokwim River in what formerly was the best moose hunting area in the Unit.

“Our objective was to reduce black and grizzly bear numbers to as low a level as possible within the Bear Control Focus Area,” said Regional Management Coordinator Roy Nowlin.

Residents of eight western Interior villages in Unit 19A received nearly four tons of bear meat as the result of the bear control program valued at approximately $80,000.

Sows with cubs of the year were not removed. Department staff shot bears from a helicopter and brought them to Sleetmute, where the carcasses were skinned and meat was processed. Department staff distributed the meat and some hides to the villages of Aniak, Chauthbaluk, Crooked Creek, Lime Village, Kalskag, Red Devil, Sleetmute, and Stony River.

“This time of year transportation for hunting and fishing is difficult, and people really appreciated the meat,” said Nowlin.

Hides from large bears were sent to Fairbanks and will be offered for sale at the annual auction of bears taken in defense of life or property.

The moose population in Unit 19A is far below what the habitat can support, and data indicate that predation is preventing moose numbers from increasing and meeting the population and harvest objectives established by the Board of Game. People have not been able to harvest moose in much of the unit for several years and hunting opportunity is extremely limited. Much of Unit 19A has been closed to moose hunting since 2005. The program was designed with input from local residents and Fish and Game Advisory Committee members who support the effort.

A wolf control program has been in effect in the Unit since 2004, but reducing only wolf numbers has not had a measurable effect on moose numbers. Research conducted in nearby Unit 19D near McGrath indicates that control of both wolves and bears is necessary to achieve a more timely increase in the number of moose.

Because the Focus Area is a relatively small part of the unit, removing black bears and grizzly bears from within it will have only a minor effect on the black and grizzly bear populations in all of Unit 19A. The predator control program will not negatively impact the sustainability of either black or grizzly bears in Unit 19A.

The Department considered many other management options besides predator control. Hunting and trapping seasons for bears and wolves were liberalized, but harvests didn’t increase enough to reduce predator populations. Public control of bears using public permits to snare bears was considered, but public snaring programs elsewhere in the state have not been successful. Live-capture and moving bears was also considered, but finding publicly acceptable release sites was a problem.

There are no National Park Service or National Wildlife Refuge lands within or near the Bear Control Focus Area.

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