By Corey Jager
Sitkalidak Island is the third largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago of Alaska. These Alaskan islands are celebrated for their abundance of unscathed wild landscapes and provide fantastic hunting and fishing opportunities. Wild salmon streams are among the plentiful natural resources on the island, drawing particular interest from Kodiak brown bears. Although this brown bear subspecies has been genetically isolated on the Kodiak Islands for around 12,000 years, they persist as a robust population and are prized as trophies by hunters. The Kodiak brown bear population throughout the islands has been on the rise due to the security provided by the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, and sustainable harvest managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Although population data have been collected extensively for bears throughout most of the islands, minimal data are available for Sitkalidak Island and the eastern side of Kodiak Island. Research is underway to correct this deficiency through a partnership between the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. SCI Foundation has joined this partnership by granting $50,000 to support this study, which is aimed at providing a better understanding of bear population size, density, movement and resource use patterns. This research will enhance the current management strategies for Kodiak brown bears and potentially increase the hunting opportunities throughout the Kodiak Archipelago.
Sophisticated research techniques will allow scientists to safely immobilize twelve adult female bears and place GPS tracking collars on them. Blood and tooth samples will be collected to understand the individual health and age of each captured bear. The GPS collars can be used for long-term monitoring of the individual bears and allow researchers to understand where bears move throughout the islands and how they utilize food and habitat available to them. Bears share many food resources with humans, and humans harvesting resources in bear habitat may lead to bear-human conflicts. This study will provide valuable data for mitigating unwanted, and potentially dangerous, bear encounters with local citizens and travelers. Minimizing incidental confrontations with the guidance of updated population data will ultimately benefit both humans and bears on the islands.
SCI Foundation is proud to be involved with another project that embodies the commitment to science-based management of bears. The $50,000 provided by SCI Foundation is necessary for managers to understand the population of bears they are working with. Proper stewardship of brown bears requires information in a timely fashion. Working with partners, funds available for conservation activities go farther than if any of the cooperating entities worked alone. This allows a larger conservation footprint for SCI Foundation and fosters better work to be conducted for many species where federal and state money for research and management have waned.