Anthony Crupi explains how Fish and Game tracks the movements of several bears in the Chilkat Valley. (Photo by Henry Leasia)

Alaska Department of Fish and Game is in the midst of a multi-year study of the bear population in Haines. The study uses collars containing GPS devices to track bear movements and gather information about their habits. Fish and Game biologist Anthony Crupi gave a presentation about the study’s progress at the Haines Borough Public Library on Tuesday. KHNS’ Henry Leasia attended and filed this report.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game has researched bears in Southeast Alaska for the last 40 years. Fish and Game Biologist Anthony Crupi says the agency started with a population estimate for Admiralty Island and eventually moved north from there. 

“There was a statewide effort, 1993, to estimate the population of bears across the state,” Crupi says. “Biologists were scratching their heads, ‘Well, we have the numbers from admiralty and it was about a bear a mile of bear habitat. What do you think it is in Haines? How about a half a bear a mile.’ So that’s what we’ve based all our management on right now. Kind of a wild guess.”

So Crupi began a project with Fish and Game last summer to get better data for the Haines area. They’re hoping to figure out the density and abundance of the bear population, the number of cubs and mortality rates.  

Crupi and his team began capturing and collaring bears last summer. They use snares as well as darts containing sedatives to immobilize the bears. 

“As bears put a lot of fat on, you don’t want to put the dart in a place where it’s not going to metabolize the drug. You have to be pretty precise on where you place the dart. Those are up close and personal situations,” Crupi says.

Once they’ve captured a bear, they take samples of its blood, hair and a tooth. Then they fit a collar around the bear’s neck and leave before it wakes up. Biologists use the samples to determine the bear’s age and diet. The collars contain computers that track the bears’ movements and temperature. Fish and Game can monitor their movements from afar to better understand their denning patterns and habitat preferences. Once they’ve collected enough data, Crupi can release the collar remotely using a computer. 

One of the collars that Fish and Game uses to track bears in the Chilkat Valley

Crupi says he and his colleagues track about 20 bears each year. They’ve collared 13 so far this summer. From what he can tell most of the bears are staying up in the mountains late into the summer.

“Most of the bears we’ve seen so far, we started about the 15th of August this summer, they are still going crazy on blueberries,” Crupi says. “I know you all have been up Sunshine Mountain and seen how abundant the crop is with limited rain and lots of warm temperatures. Bears are still up there, and it’s kind of amazing that all of these sockeye are right down here and they’re still choosing to eat blueberries.”

Crupi says they’re hoping to have a population estimate in the next two years, but they’ll continue collaring bears until 2023.

At the end of the presentation, Crupi noted that this is the time of year when bears are trying hardest to find food and store up fat for the winter. 

“This is a really important time of year. Bears are in hyperphagia. If they don’t find salmon, they’re looking for something else,” Crupi said. “We all have garbage around our houses. Take a quick assessment of what your house looks like.”

For those trying to deter bears from entering their property, the Fish and Game office has several electric fences available to borrow.