Petersburg’s Fish and Game Advisory Committee might try again to propose a fall hunt for brown bears on the islands around Petersburg, Wrangell and Kake. The committee this month discussed ways to convince the state Board of Game to look more favorably on the proposal.
In 2015, the Board of Game voted down several proposals to open a fall brown bear hunt in the area. Petersburg’s Fish and Game Advisory committee tried with two of those proposals and may look into submitting another when the board takes up Southeast hunting changes in a couple years.
Local hunter Paul Lutomski was interested in seeing that issue going back before the board. “I’d like to see it supported just because in the last two years of moose hunting alone, I saw three brown bears last year in four days of hunting,” Lutomski said. “Two for sure were different bears. Two of ‘em were less than 10 yards. If it’s not a sow with a cub then it would make that decision a lot easier when you’re in that situation. And this year I’ve got at least three different bears on a trail camera, all brown bears. And hearing of other ones of course.”
The islands of game management Unit 3 around Petersburg, Wrangell and Kake are more typically the haunt of smaller black bears. However, sightings and stories of brown bear encounters persist. Brown bears are usually larger and are considered more dangerous when encountering people. Hunters would like the opportunity to shoot a brown bear in the fall when more residents are out hunting for moose or deer.
Another local resident and former committee member Doug Corl suggested a proposal to end the spring season at the same time as proposing a new fall hunt. “I think you’re gonna have a hard time running this by ‘em,” Corl said. ‘So if you get rid of the spring season, I think your chances of adopting a fall season are going to be better.”
The spring hunt is only open to residents from mid-March through the end of May. In the 11 years since the spring season has been open, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued 223 permits. 70 permit holders actually reported going out to hunt, just over six a year. Alaska Department of Fish and Game area wildlife biologist Rich Lowell told the committee that some brown bears are being killed in Unit 3. Some have been shot in self-defense, others out of season. It’s unknown how many bears make their home on these islands although the number is thought to be pretty low. Lowell has had concerns with the harvest of female brown bears.
“That is one of the down sides of a fall season is that is when the higher percentage of sows are shot,” Lowell said. “In the spring season we have there has been an unacceptably high harvest of female bears in the ones that have been harvested. So of the five bears that have been taken since we’ve had the spring season, which is going on 12 years now. There’ve been five bears taken, three of those were females.”
It’s undesirable to being killing females if the intent is to allow brown bears to continuing to breed and survive on these islands, Lowell explained the department is mandated to manage wildlife populations for sustainability.
“I mean the purpose of the hunt can’t be to eradicate the species from the unit,” he explained. “So how do you tailor the level of harvest to within a sustainable amount?”
The advisory committee has some time to answer that question and try to come up with a new fall brown bear hunt proposal. The Board is not scheduled to take up hunting changes for Southeast until sometime during 2018 and 19. Committee members this month waited on drafting proposal language but could revisit the issue a year from now.