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Alaska Regional Director Responds To Outrage Over Katmai Preserve Bear Hunt

Brown Bear in Katmai Preserve; Daniel Zatz photographer.

Brown Bear in Katmai Preserve; Daniel Zatz photographer.

The Katmai bear video has been one of the most-viewed posts on National Parks Traveler, being viewed more than 4,000 times in less than a week. It has generated anguish, anger, and controversy. Against this backdrop, Alaska Regional Director Marcia Blaszak has taken a moment to explain the National Park Service's viewpoint of how to manage the bear hunt in Katmai National Preserve. - The editors

Dear National Park Friend:

In the past week, we have received and read a significant number of comments regarding bear hunting in Katmai National Preserve. While I do not expect to change views on this matter, in the next few paragraphs I do hope to explain the position of the National Park Service, including some of the research which guides us and the limits to federal action.

Katmai National Preserve was established in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. It mandated, in Section 202, that this area be managed for “high concentrations of brown/grizzly bears.” Section 203 provides that sport hunting in national preserves shall be permitted. Sport hunting is regulated by the State of Alaska.

Research by state and federal biologists show that the density of bears in the preserve is high. This August, three survey flights over the preserve produced an average count of 279 bears, with a high of 329 in one instance. Because you never see every bear, this translates into an estimated population of about 581 bears in the preserve, or more than one bear for every square mile. A similar count in August 2006 showed an estimated preserve population of 331 bears and an average count during three flights of 159 bears. Researchers have also seen a high proportion of single bears, another fact reflective of a healthy, high density population.

Hunting takes place the fall of odd-numbered years and in the spring of even-numbered years. During the last open fall-spring hunt, 35 bears were taken. This translates to an annual harvest rate of no more than 5 percent, considered by biologists to be conservative harvest.

The bear population in the preserve (and in the neighboring national park and state lands) is mobile and individual bears move from areas where hunting is legal to areas where hunting is prohibited. Food supply is among the factors in this movement. As a result of this movement over many miles and often among jurisdictions they may also move from where they are relatively easily seen by bear-viewing visitors or biologists to areas where they are less likely to be seen. This means counts will necessarily be approximations, and that observations at different times of the year and in different locations will result in varying data. Our management, and that of the state Department of Fish and Game, takes mobility, variations in food supply and counting techniques into account by looking at population numbers over a large area and over time and not at the numbers of bears in a particular location.

The seasons, harvest limits and other regulations regarding the hunt are established by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Board of Game, a group appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Alaska Legislature. These regulations define “ethical” in a regulatory sense, and it is those rules which we and the State of Alaska enforce.

Alaskans and others may talk to their elected and appointed officials about the hunting rules they want to see on public land. When Congress last spoke on the issue, it mandated that sport hunting was legal in Alaska’s national preserves and that absent extraordinary circumstances, hunting would be managed by the State of Alaska.

Some commenters also described their views that bears in the preserve are used to seeing people through the summer, including fishermen and bear viewers. It is true that bear viewing has grown as an activity over the last several years. Bears have also been the targets of hunters on the Alaska Peninsula for decades, including the period since the establishment of the national preserve in 1980. Our experience with bears indicates that there is significant variation in the tolerance level which bears have of humans, regardless of the activity in which people are engaged.

The National Park Service will continue to closely monitor the population of bears in Katmai, as well as scrutinize harvest levels and other visitor activities. We appreciate your concern for the park and its resources and welcome your continued participation in the public process.

Marcia Blaszak
NPS Alaska Regional Director

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I appreciate Ms. Blaszak taking the time to respond to the outcry of opposition on the issue of bear hunting in Katmai. I believe she mentioned bear viewers have only increased in numbers over a few years, which sounds abit like they don't matter as much but bear hunters have been legally hunting bears for decades as if that gives the bear hunters automatic tenure!! The issue she failed to address is the absolutely horrific unethical slaughter of the bear hunt in this part of the park and at this particular time of the year. I read a lot of semingly clever political jargan about how it's just plain an Alaskan government sanctioned legal hunt, sustainable numbers, food suply however I did not read one single thing about the ethical or moral fiber of this particular bear hunt. Watch the video again and listen to the guide say, wow this is such a beautiful shot... hell, a two year old would have been able to hit that bear. There are less issues being raised about banning bear hunting in Alaska completely than the main issue which is putting a hault to the unethical slaughter of the bears on Katmai National Preserve. Please Ms. Blaszak, lets call a spade a spade, is this recreational hunting or just plane culling the bears? I think the phrase game management is bullshit when it comes to these particular animals. I think you know the answer to this question!! There are hundreds and hundreds of wildlife viewers and photographers that spend a lot of money in Alaska to do just that. There will always be bear hunters even after you shut this region off to hunting and whats more these bear hunters are always going to hunt whatever they can, but if you keep allowing Alaska's image to be paralleled to the "killing Fields" your going to chase away all the others. The hunters will always come as long as you give them something to hunt, but for GOD's sake give them something they have to hunt!! It's called hunting not POINT BLANK SLAUGHTER KILLING. Iv'e talked to just as many hunters that feel what you are allowing to happen on Katmai amounts to nothing more than an atrocity. Most are not asking you to ban bear hunting in Alaska, just in this part of the park. You mentioned that in the last fall hunt 35 bears were taken... lets do some math here. that's 35 hunters/people or one persons money paid for that bear for eternaity. I know wildlife viewing companies that take 5-11 people out to the bears seven days per week for 3 to 4 months and there are several. This can go on for the life of the bear, one hunter killed bear can only be done once for a lifetime. Sometimes rules and laws have to be changed for the sake of humanity. You can keep letting the hunters fly over there step off their plans and choppers and blast away at the bears point blank, but you will definitely have a fight on your hands thats only going to grow bigger and bigger until this slaughter is stopped. Now that this is being made public around the world, there is only one way it's going to go away.

Having spent a few days at the Brooks Lodge this summer, I am astonded by the inhuman, barbaric ruling allowing bear hunting in Katmai NP.
Are we so reactionary that we have to allow grown men to use bears as target practice for a trophy on their wall.
If these macho individuals would go out with their only weapon being a knife, and take on a bear on even terms, it would still be a crime.
Let the bears be bears, living the way they have lived for many years.
The Katmai NP Rangers made it a point to repect the rights of bears on our visit. Why do we change the rules in order to satisfy the blood lust of these "BOYS" and their big guns!

Isn't Katmai big enough that hunting could be restricted to the less-visited part, where the wildlife would not be so accustomed to humans.

Though I would not kill a wild animal myself other than in self-defense, I know many hunters who do so cleanly, respectfully and ethically. For them, the bear shoot on the video would be no more acceptable than leading a moose out on a leash to shoot.

I also recognize the need for bear, deer, elk, etc. in certain areas to be "thinned" and I think death by gunshot is preferable to starvation. It sure would be for me.

What seems to have so many people upset -- rightfully so -- is the perversion of the term "hunt." Hunting, whether with a gun or a camera (my "weapon of choice") would seem to imply stalking, matching wits against a wild animal that has stealth and cunning and survival instincts. Taking a risk, even, that this wild animal could hurt you. Not walking up to a bear like it's your kid's pet pony and BLAM!

I totally agree with BIN and Texas 2-Step. Lets go back to the video and think about what is going on when the guide says "look at the bears, they just don't even care that we're walking right up to them" BLAM!!! Ther're times when it's not even possible to walk up too an animal in a petting zoo? "SAVE THE BEARS SAVE THE WORLD" Once again I need to mention, the crying and complaining from the hunters about the big carnivors killing the other game they hunt, moose, elk, deer etc. when in fact this is completely false as if you ask the Native Americans in Alaska and elsewhere in our country they unanimously agree the hunters are the ones decimating their game population. Hunters don't blame the bears for killing your other game so as to help persuade politicians to use game management as the excuse to allow you to walk up unabated to these bears and slaughter them point blank!!

Ms. Blaszak, I cannot agree with your holistic assessment on the environmental impact studies on the bear population in Alaska. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something fundamentally missing in these studies. Maybe some of you conversation biologist up in Alaska can see if these studies are skewed intentionally. If there is a slight moratorium on bear killing in Alaska, watch the POACHING go up. It goes hand-in-hand!. Some these hunters are surely waiting in the wings and salivating anxiously to skin a bears head off. Trust me, their thirst is heavy with money for such a kill. Also, what I'm deeply concerned about is, how the Gov. of Alaska selects these so called board members of the Alaskan Fish & Game Dept. and the Alaskan Board of Game: are they political cronies, or pro gut-pile-hunters...or a good cross section of biologist, conservationist, business folks and native Indians of Alaska. Let's examine their professional backgrounds and see if they are truly interested in saving Alaska's great natural heritage. Hopefully, not at the end of a rifle aimed two feet away from live game!

Ms. Blaszak-

Please don't take this the wrong way, but your "response" to the comments that you may or, in this instance, obviously did not read to well, completely ignores the issues that have been raised within the discussions posted on this website. The topic as raised that actually ignited our conversation had little to do with the history of the "hunts", or what allows them to persist in your ever-knowledgable schedule, in the fall of odd-numbered years and in the spring of even-numbered years, and I don't recall any other these authors questioning the act as illegal, Section 203 provides that sport hunting in national preserves shall be permitted, as you have dutifully pointed out. If you had taken a moment to review the title of the original article, you would have quickly noticed that this entire discussion is based around the general public's questioning the ETHICAL practices involved in this lack of sporting venture. Since this type of "harvest" is far from what even those contributors to this discussion consider legitimate hunting, I suppose that your statement regarding the fact that Sport hunting is regulated by the State of Alaska doesn't actually apply, being as this farce is a far cry from sport hunting. If you do indeed consider the observed practices of these individuals, as stated in the original article, to be in line with what qualifies as maintaining a high standard of ethical and sport hunting, then I submit that either the State of Alaska is ignorant of the actual conditions surrounding the "harvest", or is guilty of sanctioning what amounts to the same tactics as used on Harp Seal pups, and is turning a blind eye to the event in favor of the revenues generated by allowing such incompetent hunting within the preserve. If that is the actual position of those charged with administrating policy within the State, then it's time for truly legitimate hunters to rethink their position about visiting your State, given it's inability to guarantee the safety and well-being of those who choose to hunt professionally, ethically, and SAFELY from those drunken slobs with high-powered rifles, cross-bows, and assault weapons, who prefer to shoot as close to camping areas as possible, limiting the person effort involved in educating themselves on their intended prey, learning it's habits and trails, initial reconnaissance, and the inevitable field dressing and removal. THESE were some of the topics your article refuses to address. Why did you purposefully avoid the actual issues we were discussing? Afraid to ruffle some feathers by commenting on the tactics instead of the supposed legality?

Yes!! Ms Blaszak's comments really read as if she's only addressing the legal rights of the hunters massacreing the bears on Katmai. In fact her entire comment seems nothing but pro hunter jargon however it comes to no surprise that yet another politician would once again completely avoid the real issue.. "ruthless, unfair chase, unsportsman like killing of wildlife on Katmai National Preserve" I too have been thinking of the sensless slaughter of seal pups which is so closely associated with this behavior!! rest asure, the next Board of Fish and Game meeting in Anchorage is going to paint a different picture. I truly beleive the bears on Katmai National Preserve will prevail. This issue is being spread around the world. I also truly beleive that the Alaskans do not want to be painted or branded with the image of "The Killing Fields"

I am satisfied with Ms. Blaszak's explanation of the parameters of federal jusidiction and justification for yearly thinning. Her science is quite sound and well reasoned.
It is quite obvious that many of the commenters on this page are getting way too emotional...hunts have taken place for years. These bears will continue to thrive in Katmai thanks to sound mangement practices.
Thank you, National Park Service!!
Wildlife Management

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