Kenai Peninsula Brown Bear Conservation Strategy
Brown bears represent a significant component of the Kenai Peninsula ecosystem and are enjoyed by local residents and visitors. In November 1998, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) identified the Kenai Peninsula population of brown bears as a Species of Special Concern. The department took this action because the population is vulnerable to a significant decline due to low numbers, restricted distribution, dependence on limited habitat [NOTE: terms shown in bold are defined in Appendix B of the PDF file] resources, or sensitivity to environmental disturbance. This administrative designation was a proactive measure designed to focus attention and research efforts on Kenai Peninsula brown bears, an isolated population in an area experiencing steady human population growth and increased human activity.
Presently, ADF&G management biologists believe the Kenai Peninsula brown bear population is stable. However, in some areas on the Kenai Peninsula, human activities such as road construction and commercial, residential, recreational, and industrial developments are altering important brown bear habitat. Also, human encroachment into brown bear habitat has led to significant increases in the number of bears killed to protect life and property. This comprehensive Conservation Strategy identifies the policies and management actions that will help ensure the future of brown bears and their habitat on the Kenai Peninsula and avoid restrictive actions such as the listing of Kenai Peninsula brown bears under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The recommendations in this Conservation Strategy do not contain any directives for actions by private landowners or any requirements applicable to private land. The recommendations apply to public lands and public land managers. The Conservation Strategy does contain suggestions that may be used by private landowners, at the landowners' option, for brown bear conservation.
I. Developing the Conservation Strategy
ADF&G chose a three-phased approach to involve the public in the development of a Kenai Peninsula Brown Bear Conservation Strategy.
Phase I was a survey of Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage residents to assess attitudes about brown bears and brown bear conservation and to determine how best to inform residents about the development of the Conservation Strategy.
Phase II involved a diverse group of stakeholders representing various public and government interests that worked together to develop a strategy to conserve brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula. Broad public support for the Conservation Strategy was considered critical, and the public was encouraged to provide input to the stakeholders through public meetings, workshops, and written comments.
Phase III was the communication and public outreach effort that spanned the Conservation Strategy development process and that will continue well into the future. The purpose of this effort is to provide the public with information about the development of the Conservation Strategy, its implementation, and brown bear issues on the Kenai Peninsula.
This Conservation Strategy represents the first collaborative effort to develop a proactive management plan for Kenai Peninsula brown bears. As Alaska continues to develop, it is increasingly important that local, state, and federal governments work closely with the public to ensure that brown bears continue to thrive.
Conservation Strategy recommendations apply to a variety of local, state, and federal government bodies. In addition, some options are suggested for private landowners. All recommendations to government agencies are subject to each agency's normal policy-making process. For private landowners, implementation is on a volunteer basis. The long-term success of the strategy depends, in large part, on public understanding and acceptance of its concepts.
The Conservation Strategy is a dynamic document and will need to be revised as new information becomes available. Specifically, the Interagency Brown Bear Study Team (IBBST) is nearing completion of a Kenai Peninsula Brown Bear Conservation Assessment, and the stakeholders suggest that users of this Conservation Strategy reference the Conservation Assessment to provide scientific understanding and guidance for implementation of stakeholder recommendations. The stakeholders also suggest that the Conservation Strategy be subject to periodic review to allow incorporation of new research and management information regarding the status of the Kenai Peninsula brown bear population and important brown bear habitat. In making the review, ADF&G shall seek the advice and recommendations of cooperating agencies, the IBBST, other interested organizations, and the public.
II. The Stakeholder ProcessThirteen stakeholders, appointed to represent a wide spectrum of public, private, and government interests, began meeting in October 1999. Meetings were held across the Kenai Peninsula and in Anchorage to encourage citizens to offer their thoughts, concerns, and ideas.
In developing the Conservation Strategy, stakeholders considered a broad range of information, including scientific, resource management, social, and economic input. From this information, the stakeholders developed recommendations in four general areas: 1) human-bear interactions; 2) land planning, management, and authorizations; 3) public education; and 4) future research needs. These four areas correspond with the four major chapters (Chapters 2 through 5) of the Conservation Strategy.
III. Human-bear Interactions
When bears and people coexist, human-bear encounters are inevitable, and the results can vary tremendously. The interactions between bears and humans can be positive or negative, depending on the circumstances of the encounter. The growing number of residents and outdoor recreationists on the Kenai Peninsula has contributed to increases in human-caused bear mortality, referred to as defense of life or property (DLP) killing of bears. Human-caused mortality results from direct taking of bears through legal hunting, illegal killing (poaching), and DLP kills. Human-caused bear mortality can be reduced through a variety of management techniques.
As with many of the primary topics, there is considerable overlap between human-bear interactions and public education. With that in mind, the Stakeholder Group made recommendations in this section with respect to hunting, sport fishing, trail management, recreation facilities, waste management, and storage of pet and bird food.
IV. Land Planning, Management, and Authorizations
Historically, management of the brown bear population has focused primarily on annual harvest levels with little attention given to management of habitat. Wildlife managers are now concerned that the cumulative effects of increasing land-use activities may ultimately result in an irreversible decline in brown bear numbers on the Kenai Peninsula. Accordingly, brown bear conservation should be considered in comprehensive land-use planning as well as in development-specific planning.
The stakeholders developed specific recommendations with respect to habitat linkages, residential development, recreation and tourism, resource extraction, roads and access, off-road vehicle use, utilities, landfills, land management plans, and land acquisitions and exchanges.
V. Public Education and Outreach
The purpose of an education effort is to provide clear, useful information about bears to the people who live, work, and play on the Kenai Peninsula. More than any other topic, this was one on which consensus was most easily reached and one for which stakeholders had numerous ideas and suggestions. All agreed that a well-informed public is the most important ingredient for conserving brown bears on the Kenai Peninsula.
Given the multitude of education ideas and the difficulty of implementing all or most of them, the stakeholders determined that designing an effective education program with measurable objectives was beyond their scope. They recommended a public education and outreach specialist be hired for the job and suggested many options for the specialist to consider. Because no single entity has either the purview or the funding for a comprehensive education plan, local, state, and federal agencies will work cooperatively in this effort.
VI. Future Research
Stakeholders made recommendations based on the best available biological data; however, they identified numerous areas in which they wanted more information before trying to develop additional recommendations.
The stakeholders identified information needs in this section of the plan to guide resource agencies and their respective research agendas. Information needs included bear population estimates, habitat analysis, and human-bear interactions data.