A brown bear hunt in Southeast Alaska ends more than 2 months early

Three brown bears emerge from a wooded area.
A sow brown bear walks with two cubs through the forest at Pack Creek on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

Efforts to conserve Upper Lynn Canal’s brown bears have caused state wildlife managers to close the hunting season more than two months early. That’s after 49 brown bears were reported killed last year in a management unit that spans the upper crook of Southeast’s panhandle.

Around half of the dead brown bears were killed by agency officials or residents in defense of life and property: hungry bears shot while breaking into homes and vehicles looking for food, mostly around Haines.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist Carl Koch said the brown bear population needs a chance to recover in Unit 1D which includes areas around Haines, Skagway and Klukwan to the Canadian border.

We estimated that the population was reduced by 16% to 20% which is unsustainable,” he told CoastAlaska. “And so this is an effort to preserve future hunting opportunity and recover a little bit of that pretty significant loss in 2020.”

Unit 1D is managed by Alaska Department of Fish & Game and includes the Upper Lynn Canal communities of Haines, Skagway and Klukwan. (ADF&G image)

To address this, wildlife managers slashed the harvest cap in February  from 16 brown bears to five. That limit was reached on Monday, with hunters this year reporting five brown bears taken. That’s on top of a brown bear killed lawfully in May in defense of life and property.

An emergency order issued Tuesday ended the fall brown bear hunt at midnight on Wednesday after opening on Sept. 15.

Koch said stronger salmon runs and more berries have meant fewer hungry bruins wandering into towns this year. And he says area residents are being more mindful with their household garbage.

Things went about as well as they could have,” he said. “Like we said, only one ‘defense of life and property’ (kill) so far this year, which is fantastic.”

But with the onset of autumn, he said, the salmon runs are tapering off and berries are scarce yet bears have not entered their dens to hibernate.

“So it’s not time to let your guard down,” Koch said. “Everyone should still be very vigilant about securing trash and other attractants.”

The conservative harvest guidelines are expected to remain in place for the five years, the agency says. Fish and Game is also asking hunters to target male bears to help the population recover quicker.

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Jacob Resneck is CoastAlaska's regional news director in Juneau.

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