By Joseph Robertia
It can be picturesque — the golden leaves of the trees bordering the fast-flowing waters of the Russian River, that is itself teeming with crimson-bodied sockeye drawing brown bears there to feed on the spawning salmon.
However, anglers, outdoor enthusiasts and tourists alike were treated to anything but an aesthetic spectacle earlier this month when a few hunters shot the bears that have been frequenting the waterway for weeks, and then proceeded to gut, butcher and skin the animals on site.
On Sept. 5, U.S. Forest Service technicians observed two bears being taken by hunters within the developed recreation site, and within an hour of each other, said Bobbi Jo Kolodziejski, Russian River Inter-Agency Coordinator for the Chugach National Forest.
Kolodziejski’s office received several angry calls and emails from people who witnessed the bears being shot in what some of the callers knew was a closed area. Brown bear hunting on the peninsula opened Sept. 1 by state regulations, but the north side of the Russian River falls under Chugach Forest Service regulations, while the south side falls under Kenai National Wildlife Refuge regulations.
“Additional regulations apply on federal lands in the vicinity of the Russian and upper Kenai Rivers,” Kolodziejski said.
Discharging a firearm or any other implement capable of taking human life, causing injury or damaging property, is prohibited in or within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area. It is also prohibited across, on or adjacent to a National Forest-system road or a body of water, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result of such discharge.
“The developed recreation site in the Russian River area includes all boardwalks, access points and platforms along the Russian River Angler Trail,” Kolodziejski said.
That includes the portion of the Russian Lakes Trail that extends to the Russian River Falls viewing platform. Hunters should also be aware that these restrictions apply broadly to all National Forest System lands of the Chugach National Forest.
Additionally, in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, firearms may not be discharged within a quarter-mile of designated public campgrounds, trailheads, waysides, buildings or the Sterling Highway from the east Kenai National Wildlife Refuge boundary to the eastern junction of the Skilak Loop Road. And the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area, in the refuge, is closed to bear hunting.
Kolodziejski said that the incidents of the bears killed in the Russian and upper Kenai Rivers areas were still being investigated by Forest Service law enforcement. Meanwhile, her agency has worked to ensure no future bear kills occur in the wrong areas.
“We’ve signed the access points, so people should be clear on where these restrictions apply, and the hunting public should know we will be enforcing these restrictions,” she said.
Brown bear season runs until May 31, 2014. That’s one month longer than last season, in which 27 brown bears were harvested, according to Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
“So far this season we’ve sealed 16 brown bears and there’s one more that should be coming in that we already know about,” Selinger said Friday.
There have been another 22 nonhunting-caused mortalities of brown bears, the majority of which, 18, were the result of defense of life and/or property shootings. The others were road kills, agency euthanasias, and two bears were found dead but the cause of death could not be determined.
As with the regulations in the Chugach and the refuge, Selinger said that hunters should be aware of what is required of them under state hunting regulations — a valid hunting license, a $25 locking tag and a registration permit, all of which can be found at Fish and Game offices in Soldotna, Homer, Anchorage and Palmer, with information online.
“People are getting confused because when they’re picking up the locking tags from the vendor, they’re asking if that’s all they need, and it is from the vendor, but they still need to get that registration permit, RB300, from us,” Selinger said. “A few people have come in without them, and when they do we have to go talk to the Wildlife Troopers next door because they are technically hunting without a proper permit.”
Selinger said that hunters should also be aware of another caveat — while the registration permit is valid for an entire brown bear season, the locking tag and hunting license are only valid for a calendar year, so they will need to be renewed Jan. 1.
And if hunters harvest a bear in fall they are not eligible to harvest one in spring due to the regulatory year running from July 1 through June 30, Selinger added.