A brown bear munches on a dandelion snack on May 27, 2024 near mile 17 of the Haines Highway. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)
A brown bear munches on a dandelion snack on May 27, 2024 near mile 17 of the Haines Highway. (Lex Treinen/Chilkat Valley News)

State researchers plan to present the latest data they’ve gathered in a multi-year study of the brown bears living in the game management unit that covers the Chilkat Valley and Skagway. 

State bear biologist Anthony Crupi, who has been working with bears since 2000, wrote in an email that he’ll give an overview of the project and focus on a population estimate. 

Bear management has been a contentious issue in the Chilkat Valley, but reached a fever-pitch in 2020 when the Alaska Department of Fish and Game documented enough human-caused brown bear deaths – bears hunted legally, shot in defense of life and property, or hit by cars – that researchers estimated some 16-20% of the total brown bear population in the Haines-Skagway area was killed.

In response, the state lowered the harvest limit the following year to help the population rebound. 

Crupi launched a study of the brown bear population hoping to arrive at a more precise population estimate. But beyond estimating how many bears there are in the region, Crupi said biologists have also been looking at where bears den and how they select those sites. 

Crupi said state researchers documented brown bear den site selection in Haines from 2008-2023. They identified 96 den sites from GPS-collared animals and 165 from aerial surveys. 

“Brown bears selected a variety of alpine, sub-alpine, and forested habitats for dennings,” he said. 

The majority of the dens they found were at higher elevations, at or around 2,500 feet and on slopes averaging 35 degrees, he said. 

 “We visited a subset of dens and found most were either excavated in the ground beneath large old-growth trees or excavated in earth beneath the roots of shrubs which provided some structure to prevent the den from collapsing,” he said. 

Crupi gave an overview of his project on Friday at the Haines Borough Public Library.

Correction: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect elevation for the general location of bear dens.