Fall Brown Bear Hunts Proposed Near Petersburg

Some Petersburg residents would like to see a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3. The Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee has introduced two proposals to expand brown bear hunting near Petersburg.

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The proposals will be considered by the State Board of Game at its meeting January 9-13 in Juneau.

Petersburg resident Bob Martin is Chairman of the Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee.

“We like the brown bears to be relatively scarce on the island,” says Martin.

(Photo via Alaska Fish & Game)
(Photo via Alaska Fish & Game)

Unit 3 is predominantly black bear country. Brown bears are usually larger than black bears and are considered more dangerous when encountering humans.

“I think the motivation for these proposals is that in recent decades maybe. . .last 25 years, we’ve become aware that there’s bears on Mitkof Island,” Martin says, “and there is a brown bear hunting season in the Spring. It’s not really an intentional hunt on this island but it’s part of the larger Unit 3 hunting regs and it’s Spring only. I don’t think many people target brown bears but people do encounter them in the fall when they’re deer hunting.”

Both proposals would add a fall hunt every four regulatory years and by permit only. One would provide a fall hunt for just Mitkof Island and the other would allow for a fall hunt for all of Unit 3. Unit 3 includes the islands of Mitkof, Kupreanof, Wrangell, Kuiu as well as other islands. It does not include the mainland.

Martin grew up on Mitkof Island and said they assumed there were no brown bear here because they never saw them.

“We did have a lot of black bear around before the dump switched to a baler facility that ships out garbage but I was always under the impression and so was my family that this was a brown bear free zone and when you’re out berry picking and other such things you just kind of assumed that you just had to make a lot of noise and you’d be fine,” Martin says, “but then there have been a few incidents, two in particular, where deer hunters have encountered aggressive brown bears and then had to shoot them. And since then, I’ve heard that there are quite a few brown bears on the island, especially the South end.”

In the summer of 2012 there were two brown bears spotted near Petersburg, one at the Blind River Rapids and one at Frederick Point East. Then that fall, a third brown bear was shot by some moose hunters who said it was self defense.

Rich Lowell, Area Wildlife Biologist for Fish and Game, thinks the idea that there are a lot of brown bear on Mitkof Island might be rumor more than anything.

“There’s a lot of bad information disseminated,” Lowell says.

The State Department of Fish and Game opposes the brown bear proposals. Lowell says while they don’t have precise population estimates for Mitkof or Unit 3 brown bears it’s safe to say the number is relatively low. Brown bears move back and forth from the mainland to the islands and it is believed that there are just a few bears on each island except for Deer Island which is closer to the mainland.

Lowell: “And because the population is considered to be relatively low there are questions about the ability to have a sustainable hunt of those animals. And by mandate we are required to manage wildlife on a sustainable basis and therefore we need to ensure that our harvest of those animals is within sustained yield principals.”

Angela: “So in other words, you don’t want to open a hunt and have it last a year or two, you need to think about, can this hunt last ten, 20 years something like that?”

Lowell: “Sure. Sure, or longer.”

The proposals recognize that more hunters are out on the land in the fall looking for deer and moose, which would give them more opportunity to encounter and take bears. There has been a Spring brown bear hunt in Unit three islands for the last nine years. In that time, only four bears have been harvested. Three of the four were sows, something that the department wants to avoid.

“The fall season is when most of the females or sows actually get taken,” Lowell says. “The cubs of the year are venturing further from the sow and so we see a lot of sows get harvested in the fall or, you know, a disproportionate number that we don’t want to see with brown bears.”

The proposal that includes a brown bear fall hunt for just Mitkof Island received broader support from the local advisory committee. They approved it with an 8 to 2 vote. The proposal for establishing a hunt for all of Unit 3 passed 6 to 4.

The Board of Game will take up these two proposals and others regarding Southeast hunting and trapping when they meet in Juneau January 19-13.

The Wrangell Fish and Game Advisory Committee came up with a similar proposal to open a fall brown bear hunt in Unit 3.

The deadline to comment on the proposals is December 26.