The Kodiak Brown Bear Trust (KBBT) has been conserving Kodiak brown bears and their wilderness habitat since 1981. SCI Foundation has partnered with KBBT since 2012 on a population research study on Sitkalidak Island. Sitkalidak, located in the western Gulf of Alaska, is the third largest island in the Kodiak archipelago. Genetic isolation, combined with large tracks of pristine habitat and abundant salmon streams have resulted in the evolution of this giant subspecies of brown bears.
The Kodiak region was thought to have a robust and growing population of brown bears, due to protection given by the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and a sustainable harvest level. Bear numbers estimated from aerial survey of Sitkalidak Island in 2012 showed a total population of 84 individuals, three times higher than the previous speculation estimate from 1998.
SCI Foundation has contributed specifically to population surveys and an ongoing project examining female bear survival and productivity. Ten adult female bears were radio-collared and monitored for two years. Data collected from these sows provide valuable information on reproduction and cub survival. Thanks to this study, scientists are able to better understand population size, density, movement and resource use patterns. Early results confirmed that the bear population was growing.
In 2013, however, aerial surveys indicated a drop in bear density. A low result from stream survey counts caused concern for wildlife managers. Further research was needed to investigate the possible factors causing this observation.
SCI Foundation again partnered with the KBBT to increase the sample size of radio-collared female bears. With help from the Alaska Department of Game and Fish (ADFG), an additional 10 to 13 sows will be monitored and research extended for an additional 4 to 6 years. Weather permitting, bears are darted by helicopter, and then tested and collared. The increased sample size will improve estimates of survival and reproduction rates.
The KBBT’s 2014 Annual Report was released this year. The Trust highlighted SCI Foundation’s grant to the Sitkalidak Island project. The 2013 survey anomaly may have been caused by early and abundant forage of berries, though the next survey should show a definitive trend. Adult female bears will continue to be monitored through 2017.
The Kodiak Brown Bear Trust has several other ongoing projects involving population density on Afognak Island and sockeye salmon foraging ecology. Other partners include the Old Harbor Native Corporation and Koniag Regional Corporation. ADFG also provides outreach to the public on bear awareness and safety.
Results from the Kodiak Brown Bear Sitkalidak Island Project, both the population density surveys and female survival and productivity research, will lead to adaptive management strategies and modified harvest for subpopulations of the Kodiak brown bear. As bear numbers continue to grow, we may see revised management quotas in the future.
For more information on the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust, go to their website at http://www.kodiakbrownbeartrust.org/about.aspx and check out this video on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KtBQQATylW8
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