McGrath Bear Lift Working

PREDATION DOWN: Area moose calves have better rate of survival

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / June 21, 2004

FAIRBANKS -- A state effort to stop bears from killing moose calves in the McGrath area appears to be paying off, officials said.

Of 52 calves fitted with radio tracking collars, only seven have died since the removal of 35 bears from a 520-square-mile area. Only one of those calves was killed by a bear, said biologist Mark Keech with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Wolves have killed three calves, and three have died from nonpredation causes.

The 86.5 percent survival rate so far is about the same as it was last year, when biologists moved 90 bears out of the area, the first year of the relocation effort. The two years before 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," Keech told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The moose-calf study and bear relocation program are among focal points in the state's assault on predators under Gov. Frank Murkowski and a new Board of Game that 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 most 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.

While biologists moved as many bears as they could find, not all bears were located, Keech said. 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.

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.

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.

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