BEARS OF KATMAI NATIONAL PARK IN PERIL

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   February 13, 2007
Contact:   Jim Stratton, Alaska Regional Director P: 907-277-6722 ext. 23 or jstratton@npca.org


BEARS OF KATMAI NATIONAL PARK IN PERIL

McNeil River bears threatened by increased hunting opportunities within national park boundaries

Anchorage, Alaska— The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has asked the State of Alaska and the Alaska Board of Game to stop the proposed expansion of brown bear hunting inside the boundaries of Katmai National Park, where bear numbers are already declining.

“This area, inside a national park, has been wisely closed to brown bear hunting for 22 years,” said Jim Stratton, NPCA’s regional director in Alaska. “We are concerned that an increased number of bears will be killed in Katmai if this portion of the park, owned by the State of Alaska, is opened later this year to hunting.”

Bear numbers in the area have decreased significantly over the past few years, violating protections set by Congress in the Alaska Lands Act of 1980 instructing the National Park Service to maintain “high concentrations” of brown bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve.

In Katmai National Preserve, where hunting is legal, Alaska state wildlife biologists have estimated that eight brown bears can be killed every calendar year without significant impact to the bear population. During the 2005/2006 hunting season, 35 brown bears were killed. In the 2003/2004 season, 34 brown bears were killed. That does not include bears that are shot in defense of life and property, poached, or taken for subsistence purposes.

“The current level of hunting is in direct conflict with the mandate from Congress to preserve this area as a premier bear-viewing site,” said Stratton. “Trophy hunters are killing two times the number of bears that can be killed to maintain legal levels of bears.”

Additional concerns about the proposed hunt pertain to the fact that the bears in this area spend the summer in close proximity to humans, becoming habituated to visitors who pay hundreds of dollars a day to watch them in their natural habitat.

“This is like shooting fish in a barrel,” Stratton added. “It’s unethical hunting.”

Several brown bears tracked by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game travel between and within the local conservation areas, including McNeil River State Game Sanctuary, Katmai National Preserve, and state land in the Kamishak Special Use Area, which is inside the boundary of Katmai National Park.

“The bears at Katmai don’t know political boundaries and they roam unaware through both conservation and hunting areas. But their fear of humans has diminished because of the frequency with which they are peacefully watched at McNeil River and Katmai,” Stratton continued.

NPCA, the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, bear-viewing guides and others have submitted proposals requesting the Board of Game to reinstate the hunting closure on the Kamishak Special Use Area.

“We’d like to ultimately limit the number of hunters to ensure that only a limited number of bears are harvested.  And that may require closing the area for a season to determine the population and agree upon a harvest level that is sustainable to maintain ‘high concentrations’,” Stratton said.

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