A full house packed the Don Gilman River Center on Funny River Road last night as around 75 hunters, property owners, and state representatives turned out to hear why the federal government recently curbed a state hunt for brown bear.
The meeting was required by federal law after the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge issued an emergency closure for the hunt on October 26. Dr. John Morton with the refuge explained that rate of harvest was deemed unsustainable after an unprecendented 68 browns were taken this year, including 24 reproductive age females. Deputy Refuge Manager Steve Miller previously told KSRM News that the hunt would likely have been closed earlier, but was delayed by the federal government shut down. For more, click here.
With concerns that the local brown bear population is not “genetically diverse,” meaning there isn’t much immigration into or out of the area, the refuge moved to conserve the local population.
After the official presentation, the podium was opened to public comment. 27 people signed up to comment, but the floor was first opened to Board of Game Chair Ted Spraker. Spraker said the Board was monitoring the number of reproductive age females taken on a three to five year rolling average, and were still within safe levels of sustainable harvest. He said this isn’t about the number of bears…
Spraker: “The Board believes that this closure has more to do with a separation of users and future directions of this refuge, rather than potentially saving a couple bears. And that’s what the Board of Game, as a regulatory body of the public, really takes issue with.”
State Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation, Doug Vincent-Lang…
Vincent-Lang: “Because the State refused to capitulate by employing its emergency order authority, the Service chose to exercise its supremacy to preempt state hunting regulations on federal lands and close the state harvest without specifying any specific metrics that caused them concern. All they stated was extreme concern over this year’s harvest levels and its possible impact on long-term conservation. One has to ask, however, if the hunt was causing such dire impact to the brown bear population why the Service didn’t simultaneously close the federally-authorized hunt. This federal hunt targets the exact same population as the state hunt and could cause additional harvest and harm, yet the Service left it open.”
Members of the public signed up to testify, expressing concern over “nuisance” bears becoming comfortable in local neighborhoods and the steep increase in the local population.