The state Board of Game has voted down a proposed fall hunt for brown bears around Petersburg and Wrangell.
The board met in Juneau this month to consider 40 proposed changes to hunting and trapping regulations in Southeast.
The first three proposals came from Wrangell and Petersburg advisory committees seeking fall hunts for brown bears on the Unit 3 island, or at least Mitkof Island near Petersburg. Local residents have reported more sightings of brown bear in recent years on the central Southeast islands, an area that is normally home only to smaller black bears.
Biologist Rich Lowell explained that Fish and Game staff opposed the proposal. “Questions remain regarding the ability of Unit 3 to support a sustainable harvest particularly in light of our absence or any kind of density estimate, population estimate,” Lowell told the board. “A fall season would likely lead to increased harvest given large numbers of hunters afield. I mean that’s the time of year when our moose season is ongoing, we flood the woods with moose hunters and deer hunters.”
Lowell also had concerns over the number of female bears that could be shot in a new fall hunt. He reported that four bears have been shot in defense of life and property in two decades and one bear shot illegally in the area. In total, another four bears were harvested in the spring hunt in Unit three in the past nine years.
Most board members did not support the brown bear proposals. Bob Mumford of Anchorage agreed with concerns over the additional season. “Far more sows get killed when it comes to the fall hunt than it does in the spring hunt,” Mumford said. “I think we’d end up with more sow harvest. This looks like an area, like you said, is a low bear density area. Bears don’t tend to overpopulate themselves real fast. I mean it’s a real slow birth rate on them. If it gets to where we’re seeing a good population climb, if this proposal could come in another time, I’d look at it maybe differently then but at this point I’m not going to be able to support it.”
The one supporter on the board was David Brown of Wrangell. He said the proposals sought to stop the spread of brown bears, similar to an open season on transplanted elk herds that have possibly spread off of Etolin and Zarembo islands. “Wrangell and Petersburg folks have never had brown bears on those islands,” Brown explained. “Now there is brown bears on those islands. They don’t want them to spread. They want to be able to hunt em in the fall. It’s not that they’re looking for a huntable population, they don’t want this population to get big enough to hunt. And so I think the board’s missing the point on why they’re trying to get a season. They’re trying to get a season so they can keep that population at zero. They don’t mind em on (unit) 1B. They don’t want em on Wrangell and Mitkof. That’s my opinion.”
Brown was the only yes vote however and the board voted down the first two proposals by a vote of 6-1. They took no action on a third similar proposal.