Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Fish and Game to study valley bears

 

September 27, 2018

"You all call her Speedy, I call her 235," Anthony Crupi, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, said to a room full of patrons about the famously tagged brown bear, often seen on the Chilkoot River with her three cubs. Speedy, who was fitted with a radio collar from 2008 to 2015, was part of a study that will be repeated on a larger scale over the next five years.

Crupi's new five-year research project in the Chilkat Valley and Skagway will collect information on brown bear population in an effort to aid in management practices. Crupi, along with assistant Stephanie Sell, hosted a seminar at the Haines library on Monday evening to inform the Haines community on the research that will go into 2024.

Over the next five years the two will target a 650 -square-mile area of bear habitat. Their goal is to learn about the bears' biological information to help manage the population. They will be looking at demographics, spatial use, density, and abundance of the bears.

Crupi said Haines is an important area to study bears in, because of its higher-than-average harvest rate relative to total bear population. According to Fish and Game harvest records, the area encompassing Haines and Skagway is one of the biggest bear harvesting zones in Southeast, second only to areas covering Admiralty Island, Baranof Island and Chichagof Island. Of the 400 bears estimated to live in Haines and Skagway, there is a guideline harvest level of 16 animals. In the past 16 years, Haines has exceeded that limit six times.

The biologists will capture bears using ground darting, foot snares and helicopters to then affix GPS radio collars to collect information.

"The GPS collar is what gives us so much information," Crupi said, passing around the 3.5-pound collar amongst audience members. He said the bears are collared late in the year, when they are at their highest weight, so the collar doesn't become too tight. After about a year of study, the collar will release remotely, and then Crupi will retrieve it to access the stored data.

The collar has a hard drive that stores location, temperature, and activity. That data helps Crupi and Sell determine the bears' seasonal movements, den habitat selections, and habitat preferences.

Using a dart gun and dart to inject a veterinary anesthetic to temporarily immobilize a bear, Crupi either shoots at close range, or from a helicopter. Then, the two biologists fit the bear with a collar and ear tags on the ground, and remotely observe the animal for about a year. Their aim is to capture and monitor 20 animals per year for a holistic five-year view of brown bear habitat use in Haines.

"It's really been neat being able to observe some of these animals," Crupi said. From the data transmitted through GPS signaling, he tracked a collared bear's temperature drop from 20 [degrees Celcius] down to 13 [degrees Celcius], and determined that that bear was fishing.

Crupi recognizes the contentiousness of studying the bears, and said he does not take collaring an animal lightly. "It's a really important thing for the science," he said. "It's a short term cost to the animal- there's no question- but the long term gain that I see...and the information that we get, it's not parallel. To me, the benefit far outweighs the cost."

Other biological information from the bears can be taken from capture samples of blood to determine diet and disease, hair to see genetics, and teeth to dictate age.

Though Crupi officially began research on Aug. 25, he has been working with bears in Haines since 2000. He found the average den entrance for the bears to be Nov. 6, and exit to be April 29, at about 2400 feet in elevation, according to a previous Chilkoot study.

To date, Crupi and Sell have captured and collared 14 bears. Crupi says since Sept. 15, he has actively avoided doing field work in the areas where people are moose hunting. "It is something that I am very conscious of and have worked hard to avoid any perceived conflict," he said.

Fish and Game has created a flyer advising hunters to avoid shooting collared bears. If you harvest a collard bear, they instruct you contact them to return the collar, as required by regulation. Crupi tells people to wait a month until the anesthetic is out of the bear's system and the meat is safe for consumption.

"We've invested a lot of time and a lot of money into these animals as well, so it's just kind of a notice...for harvesters to let them know if they wouldn't mind passing on one of those [collared bears], that's great," assistant Sell said. "We get a lot of valuable information from that, which may increase their harvest in the future, we don't know. We're just putting this out there for everyone to know what's going on."

For Crupi, this research project will be his nineteenth year studying bear behavior.

 
 

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