Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
KODIAK: Population Study Supports Current Management of Kodiak Bears
Alaska Region, January 17, 2007
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Kodiak bear fishing.  USFWS photo by Steve Hillebrand.
Kodiak bear fishing. USFWS photo by Steve Hillebrand. - Photo Credit: n/a

For the past 25 years, recreational sport hunters have annually harvested about 100 Kodiak brown bears, including many certified trophies, from Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Regulations that govern sport hunting of bears on the Refuge are based on the hunting community’s long-standing interest in trophy-class animals (total skull size > 28 inches) coupled with our scientific knowledge of the bear population and its response to hunting. Data cooperatively collected by the Refuge, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), and the Alaska Science Center/U.S. Geological Survey has dramatically increased our understanding of the bear population over the past 25 years. However, our understanding of the bear population's response to hunting has lagged, mainly because results from population studies and harvest management had not been comprehensively synthesized.

Thanks to a study recently completed by ADF&G in partnership with and partially funded by Kodiak Refuge, this situation has been rectified. Conducted by Larry Van Daele, ADF&G's (Kodiak) Area Wildlife Biologist, the purpose of the study was to evaluate the current strategy for managing the bear hunt based on analysis of all available sources of mortality data pertaining to adult bears. Sources included 1982-2004 data from hunter-harvests of marked (lip-tattooed) and unmarked bears, and 1982-1997 data from bears radio-collared in four cooperative research studies.

The primary causes of mortality for adult bears were hunter harvest (91%) for males and natural causes (54%) for females. Estimated population density was 57 independent bears (dependent cubs excluded) per100 square miles, and annual harvest density was 4 independent bears per 100 square miles. Harvest rates in harvest management subunits ranged from 6.68% to 10.33%, and adult male bears dominated (68%) the harvest. Although hunters annually harvested a consistent number of bears over the last 25 years, the number and the percentage of harvested trophy-class males increased from 4.3% during 1981-85 to 9.1% during 2001-04. This increase was attributed mainly to a 17% increase in the size of the bear population measured between 1995 and 2005 coupled with consistent application of conservative bear hunting regulations. Results indicated that the brown bear population is healthy and productive even as it supports a relatively high, but apparently sustainable, harvest rate that yields some of the largest bears in North America.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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