Relocated McGrath Bears Return Home
HOMESICK: Of 23 bruins collared, four are back and two are close
FAIRBANKS -- Several bears moved as part of a predator control experiment near McGrath a little more than a month ago have returned home, and at least four are within sniffing distance, a state biologist said.
"They're making their way back," said biologist Mark Keech, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.
The state spent $60,000 to capture and relocate 90 bears from a 520-square-mile area surrounding McGrath during a three-week period in May in an attempt to increase the survival of newborn moose calves.
Studies have shown that bears kill more newborn moose calves than do wolves.
Biologists have been monitoring the movements of 23 bears that biologists fitted with radio collars and four of those bears have returned to the area from which they were moved.
Two more were within 15 miles of home, or as Keech put it, "within a day's walk if they want."
Given the fact that there were another 67 bears without collars, chances are good that some of those bears have also returned, Keech said.
"I suspect there's a few more that have come back that aren't collared," he told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The bears were dropped off at remote airstrips in the Interior between 160 and 215 miles from where they were captured. Three of the four bears that returned were deposited at different airstrips, proving what biologists suspected all along -- the bears would try to make their way back home.
The four radio-collared bears that returned were all males.
"Males have bigger home ranges," Keech said. "They can cover country easier (than sows). Some of the sows we dropped off had yearlings with them and that might slow them down a little bit."
While it's still too early to determine if the relocation program was successful, survival of moose calves this year is higher than it has been in the past three years and the number of calves killed by bears is lower.
So far, 18 percent, or 10 out of the 53 moose calves that biologists put radio collars on have died. Four were killed by grizzly bears, three by black bears, one by a wolf and two died as a result of non-predation deaths.
Last year, 37 percent, or 32 out of 85, had died by June 19 and 20 of them were killed by bears. In 2001, 37 percent, or 19 out of 51 radio-collared calves died by June 19 and bears had claimed 17 of that total.
Three calves were killed by bears that biologists failed to locate during the capture program or bears that moved into the area.
Part of the reason for the higher survival rate this year is fewer mortalities from wolves. Only one calf was killed by wolves this year compared to 11 by this time last year, but Keech said that is not representative of wolf predation.
A pack of wolves moved in on the calving grounds last year but that did not happen this year or in 2001, when wolves killed only one calf by this point.
"We're not making any predictions," Keech said. "Things can change."