As the first year in the state’s predator control program progresses, biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (DFG) have killed 84 black bears and five grizzlies in an area of 530 square miles. The goal of the program is to lower the amount of predators that prey on the state’s moose population.

“Within the next year or two we should be able to see an increase in moose numbers,” said DFG spokesperson Cathie Hams.

The DFG started the predator control program in response to a decline in moose numbers over recent years, which had closed many areas of the state to hunting. It was revealed that bears played a large part in this decrease. Since bears often target moose calves, biologists say the problem will disappear when the calves grow larger. Therefore, by culling the bears now it is expected the moose population will benefit for the next several years. If the moose begin returning to the Alaska wilderness, officials are expected to reopen many hunting units and to raise harvest objectives.

The removal of the bears is not expected to hurt the bear population, which remains high despite the efforts of the agency and hunters. According to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the DFG previously relaxed regulations on taking black bears and other moose predators, hoping that hunters would bring in larger harvests. While sportsmen took a fair number of bears, it was not enough. Wolves were also on the program’s agenda but experts say that decreasing the wolf population did not seem to have a significant impact on the moose.

Removal of the 89 bears cost roughly $230,000. Biologists shot the animals from helicopter and harvested nearly 8,000 pounds of bear meat, which was donated to several villages in western Alaska. The gift was well received by residents after a reportedly poor run of subsistence hunting. The meat is valued at $80,000.

Image from Alan Vernon on the Wikimedia Commons

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