Bears' Relocation Deemed Success


Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / June 19, 2004


For the second year in a row, the state's effort to stop bears from killing newborn moose calves in the McGrath area appears to be working.

Only seven of 52 moose calves that state wildlife biologists are tracking with radio collars had died as of Tuesday following the removal of 35 bears from a 520-square mile area around McGrath and only one of the seven was killed by a bear, said state wildlife biologist Mark Keech with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Wolves have killed three calves and three have died from non-predation causes.

The 86.5 percent survival rate so far is about the same as last year, when biologists moved 90 bears out of the area, the first year bears were relocated. The two years prior to that the survival rate of moose calves for the first six weeks of life was about 60 percent.
"We're considerably above where we were before the bear removal," said Keech.
The moose-calf study and bear relocation program in McGrath are two of the focal points in the state's assault on predators under Gov. Frank Murkowski and a new Board of Game, which is aimed at producing more moose for subsistence users and sport hunters.

The state also initiated aerial wolf hunts in two areas last winter. Hunters killed 20 wolves in the McGrath area and 127 in the Nelchina Basin.

The bear relocation program in McGrath is timed to coincide with the spring moose calving season from mid-May to early June. Studies by Fish and Game have shown that bears, not wolves, kill a majority of the moose calves that die each year, usually in the first six weeks of life. Bears are moved at least 150 miles away from where they are caught.

After last year's initial bear removal, the survival rate for moose calves in the area jumped 20 percent.

"Most of that 20 percent is gained in the first 45 days and just holds throughout the rest of the winter," said Keech. "Last year everything we gained was just in reduction of bear mortalities."

By September of last year, bears killed 23 percent (12 of 53) of collared calves. That compared to a bear-kill rate of 39 percent (33 of 85 calves) in 2002 and 45 percent (23 of 51) in 2001.

"If we can hold it it would be good but it's early still," said Keech.

While biologists moved as many bears as they could find, they didn't find every bear there was to find, said Keech. Green-up occurred earlier this year, making it harder to locate bears, he said.

"We know we missed some," he said.

In addition, bears in surrounding areas inevitably move into the area and take up residence.

At least seven of the 90 bears that biologists moved last year returned to McGrath and were moved again this year. Keech said only one of the 35 bears that biologists moved this year appear to be heading back to McGrath.

"There's one that's over halfway back," he said.

Biologists have been checking on the collared calves every three or four days and Keech said they will continue to monitor the calf-survival rate weekly through September.

News-Miner outdoors editor Tim Mowry can be reached via e-mail at tmowry@newsminer.com or at 459-7587


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