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Thread: Unit 16 bear control program

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    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Thumbs down Unit 16 bear control program

    Some of you may have seen the ADN article today on the Unit 16 bear control plans:
    http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/wildl...-8681979c.html

    But the article used incorrect data as far as population estimates for Unit 16B black bears. I wanted to fill everyone in on the actual numbers.

    According to Proposal #70 from the March BOG meeting, which asked to institute this bear predation control program in Unit 16B, "the spring 2003 population estimate for black bears in Unit 16B was 1183-2402." This is the most recent estimate.

    To put that another way to better clarify it, ADFG is saying that there are 1792 black bears in the unit +/- 610 bears. What that means if we look at percentages is that ADFG estimates there are 1792 black bears +/- 34%.

    A margin of error of 34% is pretty darn high. To put it more bluntly, ADFG is saying that there COULD BE only 1183 black bears in all of Unit 16B. The plan calls for the killing of 900-1400 bears. If indeed there is only 1183 bears (and ADFG has admitted that is possible), then killing off the overwhelming majority of them, including sows and cubs, would not be prudent.

    Futhermore, the most recent studies we have on black bear predation of moose calves show that it is predominantly the boars who are large enough in size to fend off a cow moose and kill calves. The females just aren't big enough in general. With grizzlies, both sows and boars are large enough to take calves consistently.

    ADFG should be required to do a hair-snag dna density estimate in this unit to get more accurate bear density information, prior to a control program like this. If biologists are going to recommend that we kill 60% of black bears in order to boost moose densities, it is only prudent that they first determine just how many black bears there really are.

    Allowing "hunters" to kill an unlimited amount of black bears, including sows with cubs and including same-day airborne "taking," is also not in our best interests. Sure, this is really "predator control," but only a very few are going to view the people doing this as "predator control agents." They will look at them as hunters.

    This bear control plan goes way too far. We don't have the research we need to justify it, and we don't have the data we need to carry it out without potential long-lasting negative effects to the black bear population.

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    Mark - Have you thought about writing a compass piece on this issue for ADN? It might be nice to see some feedback from hunters that question the need for this approach.

    I need some time to read the article and re-read Mark's post before responding in detail, but I must admit that my heart sank when I saw the front page today. Ultimately, perception of hunting does matter to the long-term viability of our pursuit. We need not be apologetic when we are managing animals based on solid science and management principles, but this? I fear it is yet another step towards the loss of our hunting privilages. This will be cited in every ballot box attempt to curtail hunting, and it will resonate with many who are as yet undecided on hunting in general.

    -Brian

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    Default Bears

    Mark:

    Great job of pointing out the built in margin of error with this politically motivated data. Our state game and fish is too often motivated by political motives and the science gets lost in the need to increase game for the hunters. Don’t get me wrong here as I have no issue with hunting bears and wolves but lets use the best independent science that we can get when we make these decisions. The SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) in this study appears to be a crap shoot at best!


    Walt

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    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Default compass piece

    Brian, have not had one compass piece ever accepted by ADN. Working on one now but doubt it will see print. We narrowly missed the grizzly control program as part of this. ABHA opposed proposal #70. Some Board members wanted to allow the trapping of black bears, and that almost made its way into this control program. Governor Palin sent me a letter saying she wanted to manage our game based on "science." We continually hear others espousing this, but when the "science" is not there few stand up and oppose these things. They say we don't have the funding to better estimate bear densities...and that we must raise the moose population in this area to satisfy hunter demand and Intensive Management objectives. I think you may know, Brian, what "confidence intervals" are. When we deal with margins of error of this magnitude, and then seek to kill more bears than actually may be there...it is just non-sensical.

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    Mark,

    Thanks for the well thought out post. It's hard to imagine this scheme accomplishing much of anything since opportunities to kill black bears in 16B were already pretty liberal. Doesn't seem like the opportunity to take cubs will contribute much to increased harvest.

    Even though this is a "predator control" program, most non-hunters equate it with hunting and in the court of public opinion hunters will suffer from it. We are already suffering from the decision the board made to open Chugach State Park to wolverine trapping. I have heard comments on that decision from several people, including hunters/trappers and all the comments have been negative.

    One of the problems with recent BOG decisions is that in the face of uncertainty they fail to take a conservative approach. Just look at the fact you pointed out, that the harvest goal for black bears in 16B includes the lower end of the population estimate. In the fisheries world if we proposed taking nearly all of a given stock we would probably be sued and certainly be roundly criticized for taking such a risk prone and reckless action.

  6. #6

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    A few questions come to mind on this one. Why did professional game managers let the predator prey balance get so out of whack? Bears aren't exactly prolific breeders like raccoons. What happens to the moose habitat when there is a lack of predators for a few years? It just seems like things are getting set up for a boom and bust cycle. A 34% margin of error? Why not just liberalize the bag limits for paying hunters? Do game wasting laws apply to these control programs? The program, as pointed out by others on this post, seems destined to bring out the anti's. Somewhere we hunters will get left out of the conservation equation. It took years of pressure on legislatures to pass laws for sound conservation practices by sport hunters, and countless hours of educating the public about the conservation value of sport hunting to overcome the image of wanton slaughter that market hunters left as their legacy. The way this predator control effort is being portrayed just conjures up images of the deliberate slaughter of the bison to keep the Plains Indians on the reservations.

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    Forum Admin Brian M's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Flyer55 View Post
    A few questions come to mind on this one. Why did professional game managers let the predator prey balance get so out of whack?

    A 34% margin of error? Why not just liberalize the bag limits for paying hunters?
    Flyer - Have you taken a look at the regulations for unit 16? The black bear regulations are already quite liberal (3 bears per person, no closed season). I wouldn't put the blame for this on game managers. First of all, it could be argued that the predator/prey balance isn't as out of whack as it might seem (see the info on lack of data in above posts). Secondly, with such liberal seasons, it seems like the onus should fall on hunters to actually get out in the field and harvest some bears. This goes back to the recent thread on doing something to help the animals we hunt. Have you actually gone into unit 16 and hunted black bears, and will you now that the regulations have changed? I haven't, and quite honestly I probably won't. I don't think this approach will do much to increase the harvest, as ample opportunity already exists, but it will certainly be used as ammunition against hunters.

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    Default bear control

    I have no idea about ADFG numbers, but just to play devils advocate…I am glad that finally someone is focusing on bears instead of only wolves as limiting factors in moose populations. And they have to kill females and males as males only will not limit the population growth sufficiently. Believe me it doesn’t take a very big bear to take a moose calf. I was working on a study of moose where we were following moose around. There were no calves in the area but still we were attacked twice by black bears as they jump out of the woods behind the cow to cut off the calf following the cow. Black bears take a lot of calves. There are likely more than 50,000 black bears in Alaska and maybe a similar number of brown bears. That puts a lot of pressure on a moose population that may only be a third larger. Hunter harvest has no effect on black bear populations. A quote from the ADFG article below which also speaks to their methods of determining population size: "Studies so far indicate very few calves are surviving their first year in Unit 16B, most likely because they are being killed by bears and wolves. “Fewer than 10 percent of the calves are surviving to five months old,” Crouse said. “There are a lot of calves being born. They’re just not surviving very long.” "

    Check out this link at ADFG http://www.wc.adfg.state.ak.us/index...66&issue_id=46
    Last edited by Sollybug; 04-10-2007 at 12:52. Reason: spelling
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    Member ak_powder_monkey's Avatar
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    Once again we attempt to turn unit 16 into a moose ranch, and if it means wiping out black bears in the area than good riddence.
    I choose to fly fish, not because its easy, but because its hard.

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    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Default Sollybug's post

    Sollybug, thanks for the link to that ADFG article, but talk about cherry-picking quotes to play devil's advocate <grin>. Here's some other pertinent quotes from that article:

    "Aerial wolf control in the unit, approved by the Alaska Board of Game in 2004, has reduced the wolf population from between 149 to 182 wolves to 50 to 70 wolves based on last spring’s estimate. The objective is to have 22 to 45 wolves in the region.

    Liberalized bear seasons and methods of take have also increased the annual bear harvest. One might predict that these measures will help the moose population. But because no accurate population estimates existed prior to harvest liberalizations, biologists cannot accurately measure how effective the strategies have been. Biologists also don’t know which predator – bears or wolves – is most responsible for killing moose calves."

    Prior to this black bear control program, we killed 2/3 of the wolf population in 16B. We have also had liberalized bear seasons and bag limits and increased harvests of both grizzly and black bears. Surely it will take some time for the moose to respond to this; it won't happen overnight, or in just one or two years. So why the hell would we institute this new black bear control program on top of all this, and as the article above says, with so little accurate population estimates prior to control programs?

    BTW, what 'study' was that you were working on studying moose?

  11. #11
    Mark
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    Quote Originally Posted by bushrat View Post
    .....To put it more bluntly, ADFG is saying that there COULD BE only 1183 black bears in all of Unit 16B. The plan calls for the killing of 900-1400 bears. If indeed there is only 1183 bears (and ADFG has admitted that is possible), then killing off the overwhelming majority of them, including sows and cubs, would not be prudent.
    1) Black bear counts statewide are extrapolated. There has been no visual counts.
    2) It is most likely that any errors in numbers are errors toward the low end
    3) I cannot imagine 900-1400 bears being harvested in GMU 16B any time soon.

    How would that incredible number of bears get harvested? The limit has been 3 bears forever, and no harvest even approaching such numbers has come about.

    Do you know why?

    Like always; access.

    People simply aren't going to spend thousands of dollars on dedicated black bear hunts. Incidental fall harvest? Sure. That's a given. We've already had that for eons.

    Spring pressure?

    Why would that happen? Just because the department or an advisory committee wants it?

  12. #12

    Default Unit 16 Bears, etc

    For you guys to think any real harm to the population will occur from more harvest here-of what those of us in the field have seen to be a historically unprecedented number of bears "across the inlet"-you're concerns are unwarranted. This management is so long overdue it's not even funny. The fact is the terrain impedes any "saturation control" of bears so we'll take what we can get.

    And you Interior guys wonder why more of us from Southcentral are headed your way to hunt moose!

  13. #13
    Mark
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sollybug View Post
    .....There are likely more than 50,000 black bears in Alaska and maybe a similar number of brown bears.
    My understanding is that there are at least 100,000 black bears in Alaska, and approximately 31,000 brown bears (about 16% of the total world population of brown bears):

    ....There are about 200,000 brown bears in the world. The largest populations are in Russia, with 120,000, the United States, with 32,500, and Canada with 21,750. 95% of the brown bear population in the United States is in Alaska, though in the West they are repopulating slowly but steadily along the Rockies and plains.....
    ...That puts a lot of pressure on a moose population that may only be a third larger....
    That's real close:

    ....The Alaskan moose population is about 150,000 today. But that population has declined in recent years.....

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    Default counting bears...

    is notoriously difficult. according to fish and games website, they conducted line-transect surveys in 200 and 2001 and arrived at an estimate of 2700 blacks in 16b. the reported harvest per year is something like 70-270 .

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    Member bushrat's Avatar
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    Default Scoop on bear density estimates

    It doesn't matter how many black bears are in Alaska when we are discussing a bear-predation control program in a specific area of the state. What matters is how many bears are living where we are going to institute the bear control. The issue is the bear control plans in 16B. That's the golf ball, but some will try to take your eyes off it by bringing up irrelevant subject matter and quoting older or incorrect studies.

    As far as bear "population estimates," regardless of what someone may try to tell you here, we have been "sighting" bears in many areas of Alaska as part of how we determine how many bears are actually there. The way biologists used to do this was primarily via Capture-Mark-Resight/Recapture (CMR) techniques. They use a helicopter to find bears and then shoot (Capture) the bears with a tranquilizer rifle, land and possibly weigh the bear, determine sex and age, take blood samples, Mark (or collar) the bear and then take off. They then resight or recapture the bear and by so doing they can determine a possible home range (depending on where they see or recapture it again), health of the bear, etc.

    CMR work has been going on in Alaska and elsewhere for some time now. We still use it in some units. It's expensive, poses some danger to the study subject (the bear), but has proven to be an effective method for determining densities of many bird and wildlife populations.

    The newer and cheaper way of accurately estimating how many bears live in a specific area is to set out what they call "hair-snag" bait stations over a certain area. A bait station consists of just a scent lure surrounded by some special barbed wire, set up at the height to "snag" a piece or two of hair off the bear as he/she passes to investigate the lure. Bios then go back to the hair-snag stations and collect whatever hairs are there and send these off to the lab for DNA testing. If we can accurately estimate what percentage of bears come to these bait stations, and then gather the samples and test them, we can get a density estimate of the overall population and home ranges, whether the area is heavily forested or not.

    We have the technology to determine bear densities, and it isn't at all "notoriously difficult" as someone else has said. The real difficulty lies in funding these studies. Even when we can't adequately fund what needs to be done, these predator control programs ain't cheap either. They do require a modicum of research and post-studies, like that moose collaring program mentioned earlier. Beyond the financial cost, there is also the cost to the perception of hunting among the general public.

    As with other recent and new bear control programs instituted elsewhere, many say that there is no way possible to harvest that many bears. And so I ask: Why would we design a program that we know is impossible to accomplish, and that might have little impact at all on the goals, if we also thought it would really hurt the image of hunting and hunters?

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    Quote Originally Posted by bushrat;89058[FONT=Times New Roman
    ] And so I ask: Why would we design a program that we know is impossible to accomplish, and that might have little impact at all on the goals, if we also thought it would really hurt the image of hunting and hunters?
    [/FONT]


    that is probably the best question there is
    I choose to fly fish, not because its easy, but because its hard.

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    Brian,

    I my intent was not to question the need for the hunt, but the way it was set up from a PR standpoint. I was looking at this from an ignorant outsider's point of view. I knew that the area was not very accessible and from what I gathered from the ADN article and some of the posts it seemed that it was going to be a difficult objective to achieve. Where I live the farm bureau wants the state to eradicate deer because their biggest source of income is from an insurance company they own. Yet, the poor farmers whose crops are supposedly being so decimated still don't want anyone shooting "their deer." Management by political expediency rather than sound science.

    I'm old enough to remember that fair chase was an important part of the message in the stuff I read as a kid. So many of the writers had a hand in ending market hunting and getting the Pittman Robertson Act passed. There was a greater emphasis on hunting ettiquette and what today is called winning hearts and minds. I know that some think that this is an elitist point of view, but hunting is not cheap and being polite and a good sportsman cost you nothing but very little effort. I have no pick with predator control because it works when done as described by David Johnson. I think we are in complete agreement about how the perception of this control program will be used against hunters. You are right, it doesn't matter what the bag limits are if you can't get access to the game.

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    Every year, Mark(bushrat), you raise a red flag about some aspect of predator control. And every year, the desired harvest levels are not reached. 2 years ago you were complaining about griz control in 20E. Overharvest! Ha! They harvested 2.
    However, let's say this year you are right. This year, us hunters, or the ones that live and hunt there, "overharvest" the bear population. What problems do you see arising from this overharvest? How long will it take, once we quit "overharvesting" for this population to come back to whatever level you think is appropriate? And now that we mention it, what does ABHA feel is the proper population number for blackies in 16B. I'm sure you have some science to base the number on, right?
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  19. #19

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    Two big thumbs up for ADF&G doing in Unit 16B, it needs doing in the entire state. Giving hunters an edge or incentive to hunt always helps. If others would go out and hunt predators more often, they would learn a whole lot about the prey animals as well. It would also make better hunters out of themselves. If one can hunt predators successfully, well prey animals come easy. No it is not easy, therefore little measure of success in dealing with the predator PROBLEM will be realized. If this action entices the killing of even one additional black bear, the effort will be worth it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by martentrapper View Post
    Every year, Mark(bushrat), you raise a red flag about some aspect of predator control. And every year, the desired harvest levels are not reached. 2 years ago you were complaining about griz control in 20E. Overharvest! Ha! They harvested 2.
    However, let's say this year you are right. This year, us hunters, or the ones that live and hunt there, "overharvest" the bear population. What problems do you see arising from this overharvest? How long will it take, once we quit "overharvesting" for this population to come back to whatever level you think is appropriate? And now that we mention it, what does ABHA feel is the proper population number for blackies in 16B. I'm sure you have some science to base the number on, right?
    I think the point that Mark is raising (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that the board of game is calling for a quota on black bears that is within th lower limits of the estimated black bear populations. I think he also raises the point that it will not work (like grizz control in 20E, and wolf control in 19A) so why try to implement it and give hunters a black eye? PETA just loves to pick on this sort of thing and boy does their message make sense to the 90% of the country (its around 90% right?) that doesn't hunt on issues such as this...
    I choose to fly fish, not because its easy, but because its hard.

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