Bear Relocation Begins Again in McGrath
Mary Pemberton / Associated Press / Kenai Peninsula
Clarion / May 11, 2004
- For the second year in a row, the state will move bears
away from a small Interior Alaska town to try to increase
the moose population in the area.
Department of Fish and Game biologists this week are organizing the effort, which
will relocate mostly black bears and some grizzlies from the McGrath area to
a game management unit south of Fairbanks.
The Bush town of McGrath is part of a 528-square-mile area where the state is
conducting a predator control study in response to complaints from residents
that bears and wolves have killed too many moose, cutting into their food supply.
McGrath has about 500 residents and is off the road system.
Seven or eight biologists will be involved in the relocation effort, said Fish
and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harmes in Fairbanks. Two or three biologists were
in McGrath on Tuesday but bad weather prevented others from arriving. The biologists
were to try to get to McGrath again Wednesday, depending on the weather.
The bear relocation, timed to coincide with the spring moose calving season,
is expected to continue through the end of the month, Harmes said.
"What we want to do is keep them away from the calves for a few months, and that
was very successful" last year, she said.
Last spring, about 90 bears were moved at least 150 miles from the McGrath area.
About 20 percent of the bears eventually returned.
When biologists began the relocation last year, they expected to remove between
25 and 40 bears but ended up removing more, Harmes said. The relocation cost
about $1,000 per bear.
It is uncertain how many bears will be relocated this year. The bears likely
will go to game management unit 20A south of Fairbanks because it has more moose,
Over the winter, the state conducted an aerial wolf control program, where wolves
were shot from airplanes, in the McGrath area as part of its predator control
program to boost moose numbers.
The McGrath program was similar to a land-and-shoot program that operated at
the same time in the Nelchina Basin area in Southcentral Alaska.
The programs together resulted in 147 wolves being killed. Both programs, which
have been approved for five years, were suspended April 30 and will begin again
in the fall.
In the McGrath area, the state game board expanded the aerial program from about
1,750 square miles to 3,600 square miles when tracks indicated that wolves were
going well beyond the boundaries of the experimental study area, Harmes said.
Even though only 20 wolves were killed under the aerial program and another 11
eliminated by trappers, biologists had a fairly good idea of how many wolves
were in the McGrath area, she said.
"They got the majority of wolves," Harmes said.
Fish and Game has said last year's bear removal helped increase the moose calf
survival rate by about 20 percent in the McGrath area. Eighty-one black bears
and nine grizzlies were relocated.
By the end of April 2003, the survival rate for moose calves was 56 percent,
compared with 27 percent in 2002 and 33 percent in 2001, Harmes said.
Biologists through the use of radio collars placed on moose calves will conduct
a mortality study this summer. The collars produce two sounds, one that indicates
a calf is alive and another that signals the animal might be dead because it
has not moved for a while.
Come fall, biologists plan to do a moose count in the McGrath area. Wolf population
estimates also will be conducted, she said.
The game board will be evaluating the program's progress and making revisions
over the five-year period, Harmes said.
"It is not carved in granite that control efforts will take place for five years.
It depends on what objectives are met and what we learn," she said.
In the Nelchina Basin area, 127 wolves were killed under the aerial program.
The goal was 140 wolves.
"I think it was successful," said Fish and Game spokesman Bruce Bartley. "It
did what we expected it to do."
Bear relocation won't be part of the Nelchina Basin program. That's because hunters
already are doing the job of bear removal, Bartley said.
In 2001-2002, hunters in the basin's Unit 13 killed 87 black bears and 119 brown
bears. That compares with McGrath area hunters in Unit 19 killing fewer bears,
16 black bears and 83 brown bears.