More Moose Survive after Bears Removed

MCGRATH: 64 percent of calves lived this year, up from 38 percent and 43 percent.

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / September 25, 2003


Regional research biologist Patrick Valkenburg of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks filled the agency's DeHavilland Beaver this May with six tranquilized black bears, including this cub, before flying his cargo from McGrath to an undisclosed location.

The summer survival rate of moose calves around McGrath is about 20 percent higher this year than in the previous two years.
State wildlife biologists say this is because the state relocated 75 black bears and eight grizzlies from the area during the spring moose-calving season.

"At this point, we can say it certainly looks like we're going to see increased summer survival," said biologist Mark Keech, who spearheaded the project for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "Whether or not wolves will kill those extra calves over the winter and bring the survival rate back down remains to be seen."

This year's survival rate of 64 percent, as of Sept. 10, is based on a survey of 53 radio-collared calves and compares to rates of 38 percent and 43 percent the previous two years on similarly-sized samples.

Keech presented his preliminary findings Tuesday at the 54th annual Arctic Science Conference in Fairbanks.

Bears killed 12 of 53 collared calves this year -- or 23 percent -- compared with 33 of 85 in 2002 (39 percent) and 23 of 51 (45 percent) in 2001.

"It's not earth-shattering science," Keech said. "It makes intuitive sense that if you get rid of a predator, then more animals killed by that predator will survive."

McGrath is a town of about 500 on the western edge of the Alaska Range about 200 miles southwest of Fairbanks. It has been the focal point in the state's predator-control debate for the past decade.

McGrath residents say wolves and bears kill so many moose that local hunters can't get meat to feed their families.

The state selected McGrath as a kind of predator-control laboratory. Fish and Game conducted studies and surveys to determine whether predators were limiting the moose population.

Three years ago, biologists found that bears were killing more moose calves than wolves were, and they proposed moving bears to see if it would boost the survival of calves.

Biologists moved the bears at least 150 miles. As of early September, only four of the 22 black bears that biologists fitted with radio collars had returned to the area where they were captured.

Biologists are planning to repeat the bear removal and calf collaring project next fall, Keech said.

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