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Public Process for Developing a Kodiak Archipelago Bear Conservation and Management Plan

Introduction | Background | Problem Assessment | Process Recommendation | Contact

1. Introduction

This document describes a public process to develop a management plan for Kodiak brown bears. We begin with a brief overview and history of Kodiak brown bear management and end with an assessment of an appropriate public process based on our review of relevant documents and interview data.

2. Background

Kodiak bears, the largest bears in the world, are a unique subspecies of the brown or grizzly bear, having been isolated from other bears for some 12,000 years. The Kodiak brown bear represents a wildlife “image” known throughout the world.

The population of brown bears on the Kodiak archipelago is very healthy and stable-to-increasing in most areas. The total population is estimated at 2,800-3,000 independent bears, with the average density estimated at 265 per 1000 square kilometers on Kodiak Island and 142 per 1,000 square kilometers on the northern islands of the archipelago. Population surveys of brown bear populations on Afognak and Shuyak islands have not been conducted.

Concern over a reduction in the Kodiak brown bear population in the early decades of the last century prompted sportsmen to petition the federal government to protect the bears and their habitat. The result was the creation, in 1941, of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR) to provide habitat for brown bears, salmon, and other wildlife. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) is charged with conserving bear populations and habitats in their natural diversity on the refuge. KNWR, which occupies about two-thirds of Kodiak Island, Ban Island, Uganik Island, and a small portion of Afognak Island, is not accessible by roadway. Visitors rely primarily on commercial air taxis, guides, and charter boats for access. Use by commercial operators is regulated by permits issued by USFWS. Access to the refuge via private planes, boats, or other means is not restricted at this time. Some areas within the refuge are privately owned, and access and use permission must be secured from the owners.

While USFWS has management authority for KNWR, the authority for managing the bears rests with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). It is the mission of the ADF&G, Division of Wildlife Conservation, to conserve and enhance Alaska's wildlife and to provide for a wide range of uses for the greatest benefit of current and future generations. The specific objectives for management of Kodiak bears are 1) to maintain a stable brown bear population that will sustain an annual harvest of 150 bears, composed of at least 60 percent males; 2) to maintain diversity in the sex and age composition of the brown bear population, with adult bears of all ages represented in the population and in the harvest; and 3) to limit human-caused mortality of female brown bears to a level consistent with maintaining maximum productivity. At times, the different missions and objectives of USFWS and ADF&G may result in disparate management policies.

Currently, hunters kill approximately 160 Kodiak bears each year under tightly controlled regulations. About 5,000 resident hunters apply each year for a chance at the 319 bear permits (107 in fall and 212 in spring) available to them. Hunters who are not residents of Alaska vie for some 153 permits (53 in fall and 100 in spring) and must hire professional guides, paying $9,000-15,000 per hunt. In addition, a federally authorized subsistence hunt allows for the taking of one brown bear for each of the six Native communities on the Kodiak Archipelago. ADF&G manages the resource to allow an average annual mortality (from all sources) of no more than six percent of the known population.

In 1976, ADF&G developed its first comprehensive plan for management of brown bears on the Kodiak Archipelago and submitted it to the Board of Game (BOG); the plan was never adopted. Ten years later, ADF&G reevaluated its management of bears on Kodiak; this plan was not submitted to the BOG, however it does form the basis for current management objectives for this bear population.

While hunting has been the primary human use of Kodiak bears for many years, interest in bear viewing has been increasing. Bear viewing on the refuge has had a checkered history. The refuge provided a structured viewing program at O'Malley River in 1992. The following year, the plan was to allow a concessionaire to manage the bear-viewing program; the lengthy process dictated by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) made that impossible, and there was no program in 1993. A private concessionaire was awarded a five-year contract to manage the program beginning in 1994, but the contract was halted after only a year for a number of reasons, primarily because of challenges to the awarding of the contract.

Currently, all commercial operators are restricted to at-a-distance bear viewing on the refuge, except at the Frazer fish pass on the Dog Salmon River. O'Malley Creek is closed to all human access from June 25 to September 30. Special-use permits close some areas to commercial operators and restrict commercial use to daylight hours in other areas during key times when human presence is most likely to disrupt bear use. In past years, bear viewing has occurred on private land at Thumb River (Karluk Lake).

USFWS completed its Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Kodiak refuge in March 1987. For a variety of reasons, the State of Alaska and the Kodiak Island Borough objected to proposed public-use restrictions. The final step-down Public Use Management Plan (PUMP), completed in 1993, proposed to restrict public access and use of nine critical bear-use areas during key bear-use times because “expanding public use threatens bear habitat and exposes bears to increased habituation and displacement if not managed carefully.” To date, only the seasonal closure at O'Malley River has been published as a final regulation in the Federal Register. The remainder of these proposed regulations have been temporarily withdrawn pending the outcome of the Citizens Advisory Committee process.

In 1999, USFWS began revision of the CCP for KNWR. One of the preliminary alternatives, developed in response to public concern about habituated bears being hunted, contained a proposed 100-square-mile closed area centered on O'Malley River. Public comment, and subsequent analysis of data collected at the O'Malley site over a period of several years resulted in the refuge staff reducing the size of the proposed closure. Any proposed closures would be first presented to the BOG for action, but the closure could be implemented by special regulation if the BOG did not take action. This alternative, and other alternatives that would manage human use on the refuge have been modified since the public meetings in March 2000, but further development and presentation to the public have been put on hold pending the completion of the bear-management plan.

Although the primary concern appears to be bear-related uses of the refuge, other bear-management issues have arisen and may need to be considered (e.g., negative human-bear interactions, potential habitat degradation, public education).

3. Problem Assessment

Between August 11 and August 25, 2000, we conducted interviews with 13 individuals representing a diversity of interests in management of Kodiak brown bears. In addition, we interviewed members of ADF&G and USFWS staff. These interviews provided information to help in an assessment of the type of public process, if any, that would be most appropriate for developing a Kodiak brown bear-management plan.

The importance of these interviews was threefold. First, the interviews provided insight into the key issues regarding Kodiak brown bear management. Second, information from the interviews provided better understanding of the breadth of concerns regarding Kodiak brown bear management and helped us expand the list of potential interests that should be involved in developing a management plan. Finally, we were able to learn how important the interested parties believed it was to develop a bear-management plan for Kodiak and when and how such a plan should be developed.

The information presented in this document provides insight derived from some key individuals concerned with Kodiak brown bear management. While we believe a breadth of interests are reflected in the problem assessment and recommendations, the qualitative information provided is not necessarily representative of the community at large.

Based on information attained from the citizen interviews, we conclude the following:

  • Bear viewing and bear viewing as it relates to other uses of the refuge are the primary issues of concern to the persons interviewed.
  • Interest groups in this issue are wide ranging, including state and national interests.
  • Citizens believe it is important that a comprehensive bear-management plan be developed.
  • It is important that the public have significant and meaningful input into the development of a Kodiak brown bear-management plan.
  • It is critical that ADF&G and USFWS cooperate on the development and implementation of a bear-management plan.

4. Process Recommendation

The following four-phase process will guide the development of a Kodiak brown bear management plan. Details of the process are subject to change as necessary.

4.1 Phase I: Qualitative Research (approximately August-December 2000)

Phase I includes a review of background materials and interviews with citizens to make a thorough assessment of the management environment prior to embarking on a planning process. Most of the work for Phase I has been completed (as of the time of original publication of this document). Additional document analysis and citizen interviewing will be completed prior to the first meeting of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) (see Phase II).

4.2 Phase II: Citizens Advisory Committee (approximately January-December 2001)

Phase II involves all activities necessary to organize and convene a committee comprising citizen members whose charge is to develop a Kodiak archipelago brown-bear management plan. A list of potential committee members will be generated by soliciting input from representatives of the various interests to be represented. The Intergovernmental Planning Group (IPG) will select the CAC members from the list. (See Phase IV below for more information on the IPG.) Between 11 and 14 citizens will be selected to represent a variety of interests such as tourism, local business, hunting, Native, guides, and environmental. ADF&G is working with the community to refine the list of interests to be represented.

The CAC will meet approximately 14-16 times (seven or eight two-day meetings) starting in January 2001 and continuing through April 30, 2001. Tentatively, the committee will meet two days, twice a month. The committee will hold all meetings in Kodiak. ADF&G will work with CAC members to determine the most appropriate meeting time (i.e., days or evenings). Staff biologists from USFWS and ADF&G will attend all meetings, which will be facilitated by a neutral third party. The public will be encouraged to attend and participate in all CAC meetings; the public will have designated times during each meeting to interact with the committee.

4.3 Phase III: Public Outreach and Communication (approximately October 2000-December 2001)

Phase III will comprise the efforts to involve the general public in the development of the Kodiak bear-management plan. These efforts will include open committee meetings, consistent interaction with the media, a periodic newsletter, public workshops, and presentations at local group meetings.

4.4 Phase IV: Implementation (approximately May 2002 and beyond)

The charge to the IPG is to agree on members of the CAC, to develop a charter for the CAC, and to develop and coordinate a strategy for implementing the recommendations of the CAC. The IPG will meet prior to the beginning of the CAC process (October-December 2000) and will reconvene after the CAC process is concluded (tentatively in April 2001), but will suspend meetings and not be active in the CAC process itself.

Although final implementation is contingent on the standard policy processes of each agency or entity, IPG members will work together to facilitate the implementation of the recommendations from the Kodiak Brown-Bear Management Plan. For example, the USFWS has agreed that final CAC recommendations will be incorporated into one or more of the alternatives developed for the refuge's revision of its comprehensive conservation plan. Also, ADF&G agrees that CAC recommendations will be presented to the BOG or the Board of Fisheries, as appropriate.

For further information please contact:

Cindi Jacobson, Wildlife Planner
Alaska Department of Fish and Game
333 Raspberry Road
Anchorage, AK 99518-1599
(907) 267-2301
e-mail: cindi.jacobson@alaska.gov
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