McGrath Experimental Field Work Finished

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Department of Fish and Game biologists wrapped up efforts to move bears out of an Experimental Micro-Management Area (EMMA) surrounding McGrath on Saturday. Efforts now will concentrate on learning how many moose calves survive and on whether any of the displaced bears return to the EMMA this summer. These efforts are being done to help restore moose harvest opportunities near McGrath.

Field work began May 11 to capture and relocate bears from the EMMA to state lands between 170 and 220 miles away. Before May, staff estimated that up to 45 bears might have to be relocated, but by Saturday staff handled 87 black bears and 9 grizzly bears, and had moved 90 animals.

Originally scheduled to stop on June 5, the field work wound down a week earlier because staff believe nearly all of the bears in the area have been moved, the budget had been expended, and the state’s supply of capture drugs had run out.

Bears were moved to locations southwest of Nenana, northeast of Minto, northwest of Tanana and south of Fairbanks.

Whether or how much the field work will benefit local moose populations remains to be seen. “Removing bears could allow moose populations to increase, or could allow wolf populations to increase their take of moose,” Research Coordinator Patrick Valkenburg said. “We will learn more as staff continue to monitor the collared animals and complete moose surveys this fall.”

Valkenburg praised the contributions of crew-members from the McGrath area, particularly trappers and charter pilots. “Trappers caught some key bears that would have been difficult or impossible to capture by helicopter,” Valkenburg stated. “And pilots shared information about bear locations and behavior that greatly helped the research effort.” Trappers caught 16 bears, including three grizzlies and 13 black bears.

Twenty-two black bears and one grizzly were radiocollared before release. As of Saturday, most bears were dispersing away from the drop sites. Less than a quarter of the bears were heading toward McGrath, but by Saturday, the closest was still 70 miles from its capture point.

Three of the collared black bears have been taken by hunters: one near Healy, one near Livengood and one near Rex. About two weeks had passed since their capture, so the bears were safe for human consumption when taken.

The research budget for all of Unit 19D East including the calf mortality study, moose surveys, handling and collaring yearling moose, and the bear removal project, totaled $200,000. The bear removal portion of the budget totaled approximately $60,000.

A side benefit of the research project is perhaps one of the most accurate estimates ever generated on the area’s black bear population size. Staff learned that the area supported one black bear per 3.5 square miles. Of the estimated 130 black bears present, 81 were removed. Many of the remaining bears are sows with cubs of the year, which usually are not important predators of moose calves.

Staff also estimate that 15 grizzly bears inhabited the EMMA, of those 9 were removed. Two of the grizzly bears were very large by Interior standards, where a 500-pound bear in the spring is considered large. One boar weighed in at 610 pounds, and the last bear caught on Saturday tipped the scales at 700 pounds. Each of the bears are expected to gain at least 200 pounds during the summer.

Staff will continue to monitor the collared bears and are also continuing the third calf mortality study conducted in the past three years. As of Monday, 55 calves were radiocollared hours after birth, and six of the collared calves had died. One calf died of starvation after its mother died due to birth complications, two calves were killed by a grizzly bear and one by a black bear. Two other calves have died, but the cause has not yet been determined. (Subsequently, the grizzly bear that took two of the marked calves and the black bear that took one of the collared calves were moved out of the EMMA.) In comparison, by June 2, 2002, 10 of 85 collared moose calves had been killed by bears.

A crew of about 12 ADF&G staff members, contracted trappers, charter pilots and volunteers cooperated on the project.

For more information go to and click on “Restoring the McGrath Moose Harvest” under News and Features.