A female brown bear. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

A female brown bear. (Alaska Department of Fish and Game)

The Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee is considering whether to ask the Department of Fish and Game to conduct a bear population study in the nearby hunting area. At a meeting this week, the group discussed a request from the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation.

“It is sort of like a bank account. If you don’t know how much you have you can’t decide the best way to spend or save,” said committee chair Tim McDonough, reading aloud from a letter sent by Pam Randles, President of the Alaska Chilkoot Bear Foundation. The group is seeking a population study of bears in Unit 1D. That spans the Upper Lynn Canal.

In the letter, Randles said the study would help Fish and Game effectively manage wildlife, writing ‘management without evidence of population density and seasonal patterns leads to unsustainable practices from either under-or over-estimating local bear populations.’

Anthony Crupi is a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He joined the conversation by phone, to discuss what a study like this could look like. He worked on a similar project in Yakutat that began in 2013.

There, they used hair sampling devices spread throughout the landscape. That looks something like barbed wire wrapped around trees. When a bear crawls through to reach bait that has been set out, some of their hair gets snagged on the wire. About every nine days, the team would refresh the bait and take the samples.

Crupi said other methods include identifying the trees bears rub against and wrapping those in barbed wire, or using wolf snares that pull hair from the bear when they put enough pressure on it.

In Yakutat, the study produced a population estimate of 354 brown bears for all of game management Unit 5A. Crupi said he thinks a Unit 1D study, which would be larger, is possible and feasible.

“And we’ve got the process for collecting the data and analyzing the data very well figured away so it would probably be a faster turnaround then the three years that it took for Yakutat’s estimate,” said Crupi.

But, he says it would not be cheap.

“A project like this won’t be inexpensive,” said Crupi. “It would cost the department quite a bit of money.”

Currently, Crupi said Unit 1D is managed based on a population estimate made in the early 90s.

Hair sampling goes beyond overall population numbers. It also lets researchers determine how many males and females are in the area. In this area, biologists have recently been concerned about the high harvest rates of female brown bears. Last fall, 75 percent of brown bears harvested were sows. That’s far above the management goal of under 40 percent. But without a study it’s unclear whether those harvests are harming the overall population.

The advisory committee could not make a decision about whether to recommend the study, due to a lack of quorum. They hope to decide at a meeting next month. Reporting in Haines, I’m Abbey Collins.