Board of Game Will Consider Aerial Predator Control of Bears

The Board of Game will consider instituting the state’s first aerial predator control program on bears at their annual statewide meeting that convenes Friday in Anchorage. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it’s proposing the program for a section near the Kuskokwim River where the moose population has struggled in recent years.

The aerial predator control proposal involves unit 19a, an area east of Bethel. David James is a regional supervisor with ADF&G based out of Fairbanks. He says aerial wolf control in the area has dramatically reduced wolf numbers, but the moose population has not yet recovered. He says bears are the reason.

“What is being proposed for the board to consider is to allow department personnel to go into the area in helicopters and actually use aerial shooting if necessary and actually reduce the bear population over a relatively small area, something over 500 square miles,” James said.

James says he doesn’t know how many bears the program would target, but it would involve shooting both black and brown bears.

“From a biological standpoint it’s the most efficient way to get the results that we desire,” James said.

He says moose populations are so low, hunting is either closed or severely restricted in the area. He says that has had a devastating impact on local families who count on the meat to fill their freezers. And so he says it’s one of the highest management priorities in the region. But he says the Board of Game, with input from the public, will make the final decision.

“The confounding issue is whether the Alaskan public finds this an acceptable way to manage bears or not and so much of what we do, that’s an overriding consideration and that’s where the public process kicks in. That’s why there’s a Board of Games and advisory committees and various avenues for the public to weigh in on this,” James said.

The Board of Game makes most proposals available on its website at least a month before their meeting. But this one – at least in this version – is still not in public form. That troubles conservation groups. Theresa Fiorino is with Defenders of Wildlife in Anchorage.

“If it’s true that ADFG is going to put forward a proposal that is going to include aerial bear control, we would be very concerned about that, especially since it wasn’t available prior to the meeting,” Fiorino said.

The Board of Game will also consider proposals to allow aerial predator control of wolves on the Kenai Peninsula for the first time. The meeting begins Friday in Anchorage.

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Annie Feidt is the Editor and Producer of Alaska News Nightly, and is also a frequent contributor to the show. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace.

Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49thstate just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon.

afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie