Survey Shows More Bears Roaming Alone
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge biologist Bill Leacock presented some findings of recent bear studies.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge biologist Bill Leacock presented some findings of recent bear studies during a Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center brown bag speaker presentation Thursday.
Some of the findings are slightly alarming, as they show dwindling numbers in areas that may or may not be affected by a later-than-normal spring last year.
About 47 percent of the long-term average for 1985 to 2005 shows single bears, from data gathered using brown bear stream surveys. The rest are family groups. More recently it’s ranged from 69 to 83 percent.
“So we’re seeing a lot less family groups,” Leacock said. “Whether this is a long-term trend or not, we don’t know yet.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge biologists use planes to conduct brown bear stream surveys. The system has been used to monitor the bear population since about the 1950s.
“This is the longest-running bear survey of its kind,” Leacock said.
Both the pilot and passenger look for every bear within 100 meters of the rivers checked, such as the O’Malley, and records if it’s a sow or coy (spring cub), for example.
Another way to survey the bears is by intensive aerial surveys. These are usually done on six or seven different areas, and done in each area once every four to six years. This past year Karluk Lake was the designated area.
It’s done in late May with two pilots and two observers by flying along the contours of the mountains.
“The assumption is we see every bear that is there,” Leacock said.
This, too, has revealed some troubling data.
The last time this survey was done on Karluk Lake was in 2003. The data showed the area to have 483 independent bears per 1,000 square kilometers.
“That’s decreased to 250 independent bears per 1,000 kilometers this past year,” Leacock said. “That’s cause of a little bit of alarm especially in light in some of the decreased salmon runs we’ve seen in the last three years in the Karluk and also in light of the decreased numbers of family groups that we’re seeing.”
He doesn’t know if it’s a trend, and it may be due to a much later spring start last year.