Alaskans kill bears to save moose

Alaska bull mooseMaine’s Game Plan for Deer acknowledges but ignores bear predation of deer. And our declining moose population may make bear predation of moose a growing issue. Here’s how they deal with the problem in Alaska, reported in a story written by Tim Lowry.

FAIRBANKS — For the second year in a row, state wildlife biologists have killed dozens of bears in part of the western Interior as part of a plan to increase the number of moose available for subsistence hunters in the area.

Biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks shot and killed 64 bears — 54 blacks and 10 grizzlies — from a helicopter along the Kuskokwim River near the village of Sleetmute, which is located about 400 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

It was the second year of a two-year predator control project requested by local villagers and endorsed by the Alaska Board of Game. Last year, biologists killed 89 bears (84 black and five grizzly) in what state wildlife officials called the “Bear Control Focus Area,” a 534-square mile area of state and private lands in game management unit 19A.

The area covers only a small part of the unit, which encompasses nearly 10,000 square miles upriver from Aniak in the western Interior. It is located along and south of the Kuskokwim River in what wildlife officials say used to be the best moose hunting are area in the unit.

But the moose population in unit 19A has declined in recent years and residents in villages have not been able to harvest moose in much of the unit for several years and much of the unit has been closed to hunting since 2006 because of low moose numbers, ADFG officials said in a news release issued Thursday.

Research indicates that predation by bears is playing a significant role in preventing the moose population from increasing. A wolf control program has been in effect in the unit since 2004 but reducing wolf numbers has not had a noticeable effect on the moose population, ADFG said.

Like last year, all the meat from the dead bears was salvaged and distributed to residents in 10 villages in the area. Fish and Game officials say nearly three tons of meat valued at approximately $60,000 was donated to villagers in Aniak, Chuathbaluk, Crooked Creek, Lime Village, Kalskag, Lower Kalskag, McGrath, Red Devil, Sleetmute and Stoney River. Last year, more than four tons of meat was shared in the same villages.

“Local people really appreciated the meat,” Roy Nowlin, regional management coordinator for ADFG in Fairbanks, said.

ADFG spokeswoman Cathie Harms didn’t know Thursday how much the department spent on the control effort.

Biologists shot bears from a helicopter over a 12-day period from May 13-24. The dead bears were transported to Sleetmute, where the carcasses were skinned and butchered for distribution.

Hides of the smaller bears were also distributed to village residents. Hides from larger bears will be sold at ADFG’s annual auction hide and horn auction next spring.

The largest bear taken was a 600-pound grizzly, Harms said. The biggest black bears taken were in the 300-pound range, she said.

No sows with cubs were taken last year, but two black bear sows with cubs of the years were taken this spring, ADFG officials said.

Because the Bear Control Focus Area is a relatively small part of the unit, removing 139 black bears and 15 grizzlies over two years will have only a “minor effect” on the black and grizzly bear populations in the entire unit, ADFG said in the press release.  Research from a bear removal and relocation project in McGrath several years ago shows that bears numbers in the area should recover to pre-control levels within 5-7 years, ADFG said.

It’s too early to tell if the bear removal project has had an effect on the local moose population but data collected this spring shows higher moose calf survival during the past year, ADFG said.  More information will be available after moose composition surveys are completed in November.

“It’s too early for conclusions, but things look very good so far,” Nowlin said.

NOTE: Thanks to Roger Lambert who alerted me to this story at, “the voice of Interior Alaska.”


George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.