Archive for March, 2011

Predators, Not An Easy Answer!

March 31, 2011

(Editor Note: This is the third in a series of posts concerning predators in at least one part of rural Alaska. The first was Buckled Ice….” which covered some of the difficulties of traveling to an area Advisory Committee, the second A Rogue Grizzly, What It Cost us!”covers the Christmas Eve event that gave one family still more motivation to be involved in ‘the process’ of game management in Alaska. )

The Alaska Peninsula

In the days and weeks following the brutal attack in our yard by the ‘rogue’ Brown Bear we struggled to try to figure out why this unusual event happened. If  it had happened any other time but during a lengthy cold spell, with good snow cover and  in the winter, it would have been tragic but maybe not as alarming. Occasionally, we  have sightings of bears in the winter but they usually have been driven out by warm/wet weather and are looking only to den up again and stay away from villages. Any starving bears  would most likely not denned up to start. Bears as a whole, even out here in the ‘bush’, prefer to stay away from humans. They do not come into town, as has been known in larger cities, as there are no garbage cans or food left out for the easy pickings. They will venture nearer village areas when human activity is low to pull fish out of nets in the summer, but usually they avoid direct contact with human and even dog encounters. As a whole they avoid dogs like the plague because of the barking and nipping dogs tend to do.

At Christmas Eve  dinner the evening of the attack with the rest of our small village we, of course,  discussed the totally out-of-character, brutal attack on our dog by this bear. We talked about how one resident had been ‘mock’ charged by bears twice this past summer, once from behind. In every bear encounter we in the village  had, were either ones the bear made moves to get away, or allowed the human to get out-of-the-way.  None of us felt we were stalked for the sake of killing outright, as did the bear that killed our dog.

We came to find out a few days later that a bear had been spotted south of our village, surrounded by wolves. This drew concern as we wonder if the wolves that were lately being driven away from villages had taken to looking for bears in dens, as a food source. If they were successful this would happen more. There was also concern about if this bear had some illness like rabies. ( A quick internet search showed that although it happens, in Brown/Grizzly it is rare) We still had to wonder why he was not just looking to re-den up, or head  south where there were easier and more plentiful game to be had.  He had an adequate fat layer and coat that lead all of us to believe he had been denned up.

The state of Alaska admits it does not have good ‘numbers’ on a variety of fronts in regards to game and one of those is how many nuisance bears are killed each season. They are aware that the vast majority, many figure roughly 90%, of nuisance killings are not reported. Most have to agree that the regulation that requires whomever kills the bear to skin it and along with the skull ship it to the Fish & Game office.  NO one has time or the inclination to do this  time-consuming job especially when they are pushing to put up their food stores for the winter or make the majority of yearly income in a few short weeks. (Most nuisance bears happen in the spring and summer, with very few in the fall.)

Not doing this task of skinning  will usually result in a ticket issued, and a large fine. It is considered wanton waste of an animal by the state, and thus the penalties.

Presently what happens most often with nuisance bears is either they are shot badly enough to go off and die somewhere, usually a gut shot, or they are killed outright and disposed of in a river or pulled out into the bush. This leads to the added burden of orphaned cubs that either starve to death or  are killed by other bears in the area. They also many times must also be killed by a resident as they become an issue unto themselves.

People in the villages stay quiet about this as a whole. All of this leads to virtually no reporting of the issue to troopers and Fish & Game.  This is one of the missing factors in good management, a lack of good numbers. A change/modification in the regulation for skinning appears to be a good start.

Two orphaned cubs left to starve after the mother 'disappeared'

On top of this issue you have increased populations of wolves that are starving. There is plenty of evidence from sightings, trappers and those who hunt them and of course the death of the teacher from a starving pack. (Update: from recent discussions with trappers the general population seems to have taken a good hit this winter and we are seeing  less wolves overall. Also those trapped have not shown drastic signs of starving, as was seen the last few years)

Wolves in this area have been gaining not only numbers to the best of everyone’s understanding but at the same time our caribou herds have crashed and more pressure is being put on our dwindling moose population. We had the horrific death last year of a local school teacher by wolves. The pack that attacked her was starving, chased her down and killed her. (In the past we had a healthy trapping group that used airplanes to access hard to reach areas. That is no longer, thus the numbers of wolves have slowly increased)

Our area, the Alaska Peninsula, has been managed for years for outside hunters, and for trophy sized bears. This is an issue that has been in the making for YEARS and is going to take some time to get back into balance.

In the view of many, and which has happened in many areas of Alaska, all this ‘management’ for hunters has caused populations to become greatly out of balance.

There is evidence that the caribou herds grew so large they overgrazed the area, and then a number of added factors lead to the numbers crashing in the last 10 years.  Then through a variety of policies the area had little to no way to reduce the Brown Bear population, which is usually through being easily able to get rid of the bears that hung around villages. At the same time outside hunters were coming in and killing the largest bears. (Large male bears, boars, are some of the best birth control as they kill cubs and younger weaker bears helping greatly to keep the population in a better balance).

For some time now the Lower Bristol Bay Advisory committee, our local arm of access to the Game Board, has been working to make suggestions on either hunting restrictions, a predator program or changes in the regulations to get in front of the issue of game being in a better ‘balance’.

This year the state actually submitted a proposal to allow for any ‘nuisance bear’  to be killed within 5 miles of a village with the hopes of reducing those bears that cause issues. Amendments have been offered to modify the skinning requirement. There are a number of other proposals to change dates of and/or lengthen bear hunts to hopefully result in a better number taken. 

Various wolf programs have been already taken on in small ways to reduce those populations. (Since the death of the teacher monies have been ‘found’ to offer trapping workshops so local trappers can learn to be more efficient and humane while reducing numbers)

Our hope is that during this time we had before the Game Board the subject was listened to and the changes that were agreed upon by the board can be implemented.

It also appears that residents, local hunters, game managers, lodge owners and guides need to come together to draft at least area suggestions/plans of how best to understand and manage the game we all rely on.  Resources can be managed more efficiently, locals can help with numbers and spotting of animals, once trained and we can be creative in how best to accomplish balanced goals. It is so much easier to just complain of lack of budgets, no one listening, or a variety of other whines but harder to find common ground to work toward solutions.

There are a number of entities, from the federal and state governments, tribes/cities to residents that need to find a way to coordinate research, animal surveys, reporting and other input needed to accomplish the goals worked out with the needs of all.

We should hear in the coming weeks how all the changes that were agreed to by the board will be implemented and if they will have any impact.

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Mapping Out, Beforehand, Where You Want To Go!

March 24, 2011

Spring sunrise over the tundra

After weeks of almost totally clear sunny weather, although cold temperatures, we are into rain, wind, and clouds. Where it seems parts of the lower 48 are having a winter that doesn’t seem to want to stop, some of us here in Alaska are thinking we never really got a ‘normal’ winter.

All I see, besides a glorious mountain range covered in snow, is brown landscape and a few drifts of snow left from earlier this year. Our river is still frozen enough to travel on, as are most ponds and lakes. The ground is still mostly frozen although on warm days the top inch or so of soil turns to mud.

Despite all this cold we are seriously facing spring and it is approaching FAST!!

Around the first of March we installed some basic temperature monitors in one of the high tunnels, similar to a greenhouse but in our case without added heat or light. We wanted to start monitoring the soil and air temperatures now that the days are over ten hours of daylight.  We put one sensor  about 4” into the soil, having hit at least somewhat of a frost level at that point.

The second sensor was hung just over our heads. We also have a full weather station which gives us the normal weather information so we can match outside with inside of the structure.

Since moving to this area of Alaska a little less than 10 years ago the farmer/gardener in me has wanted, or maybe by this age it is actually a ‘need’ having lived with this frame of mind so long, to gather useful information on frost dates, weather patterns and soil makeup. Much of what has been learned so far has been with the use of low ‘hooped’ beds and making a fair amount of missteps.

hooped for insects

Having the three separate high tunnel structures this year to work with means there is a lot to get planned out and working in short order. Usually by the middle of June all things ‘fishing’ have to take center stage. Being organized and ahead of schedule will be paramount to having things be successful, at least in my mind. (I am not going to discuss how it would be heaven to have a ‘wife’ about that time of year just to keep the day-to-day things running smoothly)

We set up the structures where we had gardened in the past, just expanding the area. The tunnels and the surrounding area get full sunshine, even in the winter. It is also pretty much sheltered from strong winds. This is a huge plus in our area.

Two other houses waiting for covering to go up

Observing the monitors these past few weeks we have seen a slow but steady rise in the ground temperatures. About a week ago we saw the ground temperature pop above 40 degree, while days were still hovering in the 20’s & 30’s, and stay there well into the evening. The last few days the ground is staying in the high 30’s overnight when the temps, even inside the tunnels, drop into the low 30’s.

The greens I planted last fall, much too late I thought, have now sprouted. Rhubarb is showing through the dark soil. Spring is pushing itself forward.

Fall seeded greens strating to sprout

Rhubarb peaking through this spring.

Most of the tomato starts are up and we are awaiting the first ‘true’ leaves to show up, signaling the need to transplanted into the next sized pots. Peppers are slow to sprout this year. The first tray of cabbage and cauliflower starts has become a casualty. The kitty thought all the nice warm peat mixture needed to be aerated.  He did not mess in it but did stir it up good enough to make a mess on the floor and get nice rich peat smell all in his coat!

Trouble watching the seed prepping activities!

Now to make all the plans are mapped out, supplies are on their way, and a schedule is mapped out! Hopefully all of this will lead to some success this summer.

Velvet, Snickers, and John Baker-Congratulations! Iditarod 39 *UPDATED*

March 16, 2011

Snickers & Velvet

March 16, 2011

We couldn’t be happier that John Baker, leaders Velvet & Snickers, and team dogs made it first to Nome yesterday.  I was riveted once John Baker took the lead, and now I can get some sleep, too.  Please click on the pictures for more articles about this dream team from the Alaskan Bush.

Inupiaq ‘finally’ earn Iditarod glory

By Jill Burke, Alaska Dispatch

“The Inupiaq musher has become the first Native in decades to claim victory, and it is a victory Baker knows he shares with more than just his family and fans, said his younger brother, Andy, who has followed Baker throughout much of the race.

Beyond proving the naysayers wrong, a Baker win also serves as a beacon to Alaskans in small, remote communities that by setting and sticking to their goals, they can overcome the obstacles they may face.”

Team Baker, Kotzebue Alaska

Velvet Baker, John Baker & Snickers Baker

Black Dogs Rule!

We fans who can’t be in Nome for the party decided to celebrate this momentous event and fantastic  accomplishment at home – dog style!

Party Time!

 

Menu and Balloon

 

Straw & Snowflakes

 

I Gave Them Cheese!

 

 

“Initiative would halt large-scale resource extraction”

March 12, 2011

Mar 12, 2011

Written by Margaret Bauman, “Bristol Bay Times“,  March 3rd, 2011

(Reprinted with permission of Alaska Newspapers Inc)

A petition application filed with Lake and Peninsula Borough seeks to halt any large-scale resource extraction activity, including mining, if that activity could destroy or degrade salmon.

The petition was filed yesterday in King Salmon by George Jacko, of Pedro Bay, lead sponsor of the “Save our Salmon” initiative, who said “this initiative is about giving a voice to the Alaskans who will be most affected by industrial development in Bristol Bay.”

“We need about 90 signatures; we’ll try to get more. We want it to be on the regular ballot in the fall,” Jacko said.

The borough now has 30 days to review the application, to be sure it is in order, and if everything is in order, they can then take a petition out to seek the needed signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, said Lamar Cotten, borough manager.

The stated purpose of the petition, signed by 24 people, is to protect salmon habitat from destruction or degradation during large scale mining activities within the borough. The signers include Robert Gillam, president and chief executive officer of McKinley Capital Management, an investment advisory company he founded in 1990. An avid sport fisherman, Gillam has had a home at Lake Clark for 27 years.

The petition notes the importance of salmon as a renewable resource which supports both the economy and subsistence lifestyle of borough residents. It calls for protections against any resource extraction activities that could have a significant adverse impact on wild salmon habitat or the sustained abundance of the wild salmon resource.

The initiative also calls for an opportunity for residents to obtain court review of any proposed development that could have a significant adverse impact on wild salmon habitat or the sustained abundance of the wild salmon resource.

The petition is the latest in a series of efforts to halt development of a massive copper, gold and molybdenum mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, which spawns millions of sockeye salmon for the world’s largest wild red salmon run. Mine opponents say that scientific research has shown that the Pebble mine could cause major environmental pollution, spelling disaster for the Bristol Bay fishery, the economic anchor of the region.

Proponents of the mine maintain that mining and fisheries can co-exist.

In a speech today before more than 300 members of the Resource Development Council in Anchorage, Cynthia Carroll, chief executive officer of Anglo American, an international mining firm based in London, criticized outside interests opposed to the mine. “I want to make one thing absolutely clear: fish and mining can co-exist,” she said. Anglo America is a partner in the Pebble Partnership, which is doing exploration on the Pebble mine.

Margaret Bauman can be reached at mbauman@alaskanewspapers.com, or by phone at 907-348-2438

A Rogue Grizzly, What It Cost Us!

March 4, 2011

March 4, 2011

(Editor’s note – This is the second post in a series that deals with some of the impact of the state’s game ‘management’ practices. The first post “Buckled Ice…..” spoke of some of the obstacles in attempting to be involved in the discussion)

WARNING THIS POST IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!!

First – let’s correct the misuse of the word Grizzly.

Alaska calls the same bear a “Brown Bear”, not a Grizzly.

We are dealing with the issue of predators, how they impact those of us who LIVE in the areas affected by some of the state’s  management practices and what it costs, at least for some of us!!!

The Alaska Peninsula is that skinny part of Alaska that leads down to the Aleutian Islands and has Bristol Bay on the west side of it. The State Board of Game rotates on a 3 year schedule through the various areas of the state. Our area runs the 4th through the 10 this month. This is also the area where the young teacher was attacked and killed by the wolf pack last year despite years of us being told wolves do not attack people. (Unfortunately these meeting are  not held in the areas affected so residents can speak to the issues, but  in Anchorage or, like this year, a suburb of Anchorage! This effectively greatly limits our rural voices being heard in person.)

We, a group of villages, in this ‘game area’ will be trying to get the attention of the Game Board these few days to present our side of the past years’ ‘management’ of predators and how we have paid for that ‘management’.

That isn't blood from the bear!

All of this came right to our yard in a different, but just as brutal and upsetting way on Christmas Eve, just a few months ago.

My family and our two dogs returned on Christmas Eve from our local airport and collecting our mail. It was a cold day, in the negatives, and with a good snow cover. There was a gentle wind from the north. The weather had been this way for a good month or so and we were in winter mode of watching for wolves in the wee hours. We were not worried about Brown bear as they had been denned up for probably close to two months.

We got out of the car in our driveway and one of us started packing mail and packages into the house while the other walked the opposite direction to check our generator, about 150 yards away. The dogs were in the yard between us just generally sniffing around. The yard is cleared and no brush is around for some distance. Generally this is an area that wild animals avoid as they are totally exposed and near humans. The village we live in, as a whole, is pretty active year around.

On my second trip into the entry to drop mail our one dog that is the ‘warning or alarm’  animal started barking loudly with her ‘serious danger’ bark. I raced out near her and called for our second dog, who had been there just minutes ago. I heard a kind of weird/odd snarl sound but nothing else. No second dog and the other one racing to the side of the yard near a gentle slope.

I yelled and my spouse ran toward the area I thought I heard the sound come from. Then came the scream to get back, a bear had just killed our dog!! My heart took a twist and my stomach dropped. This doesn’t happen in a village and definitely not this time of year!!

The one that shed all the blood in the above picture!

I can’t tell you the shock in his voice or his frantic run to the house for a gun. Our other dog was now trying to charge that area and yet keep me safe, just yards away.

Upon getting the gun we ran toward where the bear and dog were. From just  a few feet away he   dispatched  the bear immediately.

This bear  showed NO FEAR. I can’t stress this enough…bears do not like humans and REALLY do not like guns. They always turn and run when they hear the click of a gun. We have heard of hunters who stumbled upon a bear in the middle of feeding and been ‘barked’ at but they usually will show sign of wanting to get away when they hear a gun ‘click’.

The dog was dead except for the last futile convulsion her body was going through. She had died in seconds as he jumped her from behind, broke her back and then crushed her skull. She did not have time to yip or even whine.

The dog that HATES bears never got a chance to bark a warning. She most likely saw him or smelled him once he got close to her, as the wind was blowing towards him and away from our dogs.

This bear not only killed our dog but stalked and raced to kill her. We were able to trace his prints back in the fresh snow and see where he planted his paws and started the race to kill her.

Our surprise, as well as all others who have lived here all their lives, came on two fronts. First that we had a Brown bear , called a Grizzly in the lower 48, out this time of year when the weather had been so cold and we had so much snow cover. No one we have talked to since this happened can recall this happening during their life time.

The second surprise was that he stalked her and came into a definitely human area to kill. He was not surprised, there was no food to protect, there were no cubs to protect, we did not have food to entice him in, it was just plain bizarre on many fronts.

After the first round of shock we realized we were equally as close to the original spot the bear started from and within obvious sight of him, or at least smell, as the dog he killed. Had he chosen to go straight instead of veering to the left it would have been me; going to the right, he would have had gotten my spouse.

We KNOW that this bear would not have mauled us but killed us just like the dog, and the ability for one of us to help the other would have been futile …

When that realization sets in  you change how you walk out your front door in this part of the country, even in the relatively ‘safe’ winter.

(The next post will look into why things might have gotten to this point)