2020 has been a tough year for bears in the Upper Linn Canal. Small fish runs and a growing berry crop combine to make for a lean year for the species. Fish and Game Wildlife Research Biologist Anthony Crupi said that while he hasn’t seen any hungry bears, they don’t get too fat until very late in the season, when they have to build up some reserves. He also noted that some bears resorted to cannibalism, which is not common among bears.
The lack of food has forced many bears to seek out in or near human settlements, hiding in cars, houses and garbage dumps. People, in turn, resorted to shooting large numbers of bears. Fish and Game Wildlife Management Biologist Carl Koch says he counted 49 bears killed by humans in 2020, of which only 19 were hunted. Two were hit by a car, and the rest were shot in defense of property or illegally. Most of these were females of reproductive age. This had a serious impact on the sustainability of the population.
Here is Koch:
“Brown bears are slow breeders, they don’t give birth until they’re five years old, and their cubs stay with them for three, sometimes four summers before they’re released, so when there’s a population loss or a decline like that, I think we’re estimating 16 to 20 percent of the total population, we’re going to have to recover.” it will take some time.
The effect of so many murders on the rest of the population is manifold. On the one hand, it can relieve stress because there are fewer bears competing for food, on the other hand, especially if some of the dominant bears are removed, the bears have to redefine their sucking habits. Some black bears may move into areas previously monopolized by the more dominant brown bears.
In early 2021, the Department of Fish and Game developed a recovery plan to allow the population to recover. Koch explains:
“To limit the harvest to five bears per calendar year for approximately five years and to kill no more than two females for any reason and no more than seven brown bears for any reason.”
This means that if two females are killed, the bear hunting season will be closed immediately.
The plan was successfully implemented.
“So this year we’re eight years old, which means we’ve exceeded our seven goals, luckily only one of them is a woman.”
Hunters are always advised not to shoot females. As part of issuing a permit, Fish and Game requires hunters to a video teaches how to distinguish between the sexes.
“Typically, brown bear hunters are looking for trophies, the males have a large, stubby head, the ears seem almost too small, very small against the axis, there is a wide space between the ears, and the mouth is kind of visible. short and then the legs can be very thick, even the lower legs, especially when they give some weight, but even before these adult males are clearly larger than females.
To further address the problem, a bear task force was formed at Haines, and many of its recommendations were implemented:
“The landfill has made great strides, they’ve electric-fenced the entire perimeter, upgraded the dumpsters to be more bear-resistant, and the county council changed this ordinance to the most conscientious decision possible for statewide reduction.” After gaining access to the unsecured human attractor, they began asking people to provide chicken coops and do a good job with their litter, and the police force did some education and enforcement. Fish and Game took some education and helped with lots of advice, we provided electric fences. The Takshanuk watershed council has a fruit tree program where they will volunteer people to pick fruit, the museum gave a grant for electric fences, so I really want to thank the community.
These efforts are paying off. Here, Anthony Krupi summarizes the bear population trends he identified:
“This summer we were able to monitor sixteen cubs from twenty different adult females. Basically what we look at when we chroma to model a population is the number of pups per mature female and the percentage of females that actually have pups. And these numbers have slowly started to recover in the last two years. Thus, in 2020 and 2021, the number of cubs per female was only one and a half. Now that we averaged about two cubs per mature female, over the last four years of the study, we were able to determine that about 56 percent of mature females did not have cubs in a given year. percent will have one pup, about twenty percent will have two pups, and eight percent will have three pups. When we looked at this long-term data set, where we tracked over a hundred female adult bears over the past four years, we could really see some positive gains. So, slowly over time, this population will be able to rebuild to become a sustainable population that can support all the interests that humans have when it comes to human interactions with brown bears, culturally, economically, and socially.