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Panel Weighs McNeil River Brown Bear Hunt

Dan Fiorucci / KTUU-TV / February 15, 2005

Anchorage, Alaska - The McNeil River near Katmai National Park is world-famous for pictures of grizzly bears catching salmon in their teeth. But in recent years the number of bears seen at the famed site has been down.

The advisory committee to the Alaska Board of Game is meeting this week in Anchorage to discuss a controversial proposal whether to limit the brown bear hunt near the viewing site.

In public testimony Tuesday evening, the early comments were very one-sided.

The main issue was whether to limit the hunting of brown bears near the McNeil River, a favorite spot for bear-viewing, which draws visitors from around the globe. Virtually everyone who testified early in the evening said the bear hunts have to remain limited, that the brown bear population cannot take a higher hunt.

"We're looking at areas that have been closed for decades," said biologist Paul Joslin. "Bear numbers at McNeil, we know, are down significantly. That in itself ought to be reason for caution. Bear numbers are also down in the Katmai National Preserve, just next door to the refuge. The aerial counts have been considerably coming down, and in that particular case, there's a high amount of hunting take that occurs in there."

But some members of the advisory board challenged the assertion that bear populations near McNeil River have declined. They didn't dispute that bear sightings are down, just that fewer sightings necessarily mean there are fewer bears in the area.

The advisory committee will make a recommendation Wednesday, then the Board of Game will have to rule next month on whether or not to put limits on the brown bear hunt near McNeil River.

As for another recent hot issue -- a proposed moose hunt to reduce the population of ungulates on the Anchorage Hillside -- the advisory board also will make a recommendation to the Board of Game for consideration next month.


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