Katmai National Preserve
Brown Bear Hunts
The long-standing brown bear hunt in Katmai National Preserve (KNP) has garnered significant attention over the past weeks. Initially, discourse centered on the status of the bear population but has since shifted to questions of ethics and fair chase.
Game Management Unit (GMU) 9C, including KNP, is home to a healthy population of bears. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Park Service monitor this population using rigorous bear censuses, annual population surveys and harvest data. Surveys conducted in August 2007 indicated very high densities of bears in GMU 9C, including KNP. High local densities are likely the result of increased salmon returns in the tributaries of the Alagnak drainage.
The bear population on the Alaska Peninsula, including KNP, is managed conservatively with open seasons in the fall of odd-numbered years and the spring of even-numbered years. Generally, the sustainable annual harvest rate for a given bear population is around 6%. Even though coastal bears tend to be more productive and could likely prosper under higher harvest rates, the long-term harvest rate in all of GMU 9C (including the 70% closed to hunting and comprising the largest brown bear sanctuary in the world) is less than 2%. The harvest rate in the remaining 30% of GMU 9C is still below 6%.(including the 70% closed to hunting and comprising the largest brown bear sanctuary in the world) is less than 2%. The harvest rate in the remaining 30% of GMU 9C is still below 6%.
(including the 70% closed to hunting and comprising the largest brown bear sanctuary in the world) is less than 2%. The harvest rate in the remaining 30% of GMU 9C is still below 6%.
This conservative strategy was employed by the department in the mid 70s due to concerns about population overexploitation. Thus, the hunts in questions are part of the very management strategy that has resulted in the present high numbers of bears utilized by bear viewers and bear hunters alike. This is one of Alaska's foremost wildlife management success stories.
While the health of the Alaska Peninsula bear population is irrefutable, the issue of ethics of hunters and wildlife viewers is worthy of discussion. Over recent days, we have received comments from individuals with varied perspectives on this issue and this topic has prompted several lively discussions amongst staff. Not surprisingly, definitions of ethics or appropriate behavior are unique, influenced by individual backgrounds and viewpoints. Three fundamental issues have been raised through these dialogues. First, what constitutes fair chase? Second, is it ethical to view bears at close distances in areas open to hunting? And third, what is the department's role in answering these questions?
The department is charged with managing the state's resources for the benefit of all Alaskans following sustained yield principles as outlined in the state Constitution, statutes, and regulations. The Alaska Board of Game (board) considers ethics and fair chase when promulgating hunting regulations. Furthermore, the board is mindful of differing views (e.g. the board is sensitive about imposing "western ethics" on Native subsistence practices). The department's role is to provide the board with scientific information to aid in the board's decision making and foster sound management. The department's long-term success in this regard has significantly benefited all user groups, hunters and viewers alike. As a result, the department its meeting our legal requirements and, equally important, its obligation to uphold the public trust.
Defining ethics and fair chase is challenging as perspectives vary among individuals, even within groups sharing common interests. Recently, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, a group of resource agency leaders, met to define fair chase and consider related resolutions. The effort ended in impasse because the opinions of individuals were too varied to allow consensus. The issue was deemed to be more divisive than constructive.