Game board approves Nushagak AC request to allow sale of brown bear hides

Apr 13, 2016

Citing increase of bear problems and decrease of annual harvest, state will now allow hunters to sell hides in areas with a bag limit of two bears per year to help incentivize the effort.

Beginning next fall, hunters in areas where up to two brown bears can be taken will be allowed to sell the hides for profit. That follows action by the state board of game, based on a request from the Nushagak Advisory Committee.

Audio transcript: For years, the local input to the Nushagak fish and game advisory committee has held that there are too many bears in the area, and not enough incentive to kill them.

"We’ve had a lot of reports, no just locally, but regionally and statewide, the bear problems have increased like tenfold in the last ten years," said AC chair Frank Woods.

Anecdotally, the committee heard recently that just about every cabin on the Nushagak River has been broken into by the unwanted ursine over the past two years. Some believe the bear population in GMU 17 is growing, and poses an increased threat to moose and caribou populations. A few years back the state increased the resident hunter bag limit in GMU 17 to two brown bears each year.

"And the first year initiated, there was only two people who capitalized on the two bear per regulatory year," said Woods. "So relaxing all the hunting restrictions hasn’t really helped.”

Nor have the woefully inadequate winters, which have kept the spring guided hunting businesses sidelined for two years in a row. But really, what it comes down to is, who needs or wants to take so many bears?

"I mean after your first brown bear hide, you don’t two or three sitting around. What’re you going to do with the third or fourth one?" said Woods.

Few in the area eat brown bear anymore, with the exception that some say those brown bears that aren't big fish eaters offer some of the tastiest wild meat there is.

So the Nushagak AC asked the state Board of Game to allow hunters to sell the hides. Though it could give a little incentive to increase the harvest, and increase the use of the resource, it seemed like a long shot request. The committee members were pleasantly surprised by outcome.

"It passed 5 to 2, I believe,” said Board of Game member Stosh Hoffman from Bethel, who voted in support of the proposal. “We’ve had people from that area of the state for several years now telling us there’s a lot of bears down there, and they got to find ways to deal with them.”

Hunting Alaska's big game resources for profit is a controversial idea, of course. Hoffman said he took careful notes of the critiques offered at last month's board meeting in Fairbanks.

"Some of the people said they didn’t want this to blanket the whole state, which it doesn’t. It just covers units 16, 17, and 19, or only places where there’s a two bear limit. Some of the people thought this didn’t fall in line with the Lacey Act. Other comments were that this could cause a black market from other brown bears around the state, like unit 9 where those bears are bigger, that was a concern. And some people thought there might be potential for overharvest.”

The Department of Fish and Game was neutral, and enforcement said they’d keep a close eye as the opportunity unfolds. Of the other advisory committees that responded to the proposal, 15 were in favor and five were against, split mostly along a rural/urban divide.

For the Nushagak AC, this change is a small win, first for the process, as the idea began with local input and with a couple-year steady push, became a regulatory change. Second, they say it's a win for the area: starting next fall, local hunters can help control the bear population and maybe make a little money while they’re at it.

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281