Cancelled non-resident bear hunts will hurt the guide industry this spring

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) Last week, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced that the state would be suspending its spring bear hunting season, then quickly reinstated hunts, for residents only, a day later. The changes pleased many local hunters. Many look forward to early bear hunts as their first chance to get into the woods after a long winter, while others rely on the season as a means of subsistence.

Groups like Resident Hunters of Alaska pushed back immediately after learning of the closure to all spring bear hunts. Executive Director Mark Richards says his organization is pleased with ADF&G Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang's decision to reopen the spring hunts for Alaskans - but supports the closure of non-resident hunts as a way of protecting the state against the spread of COVID-19.

"We were very upset when we heard the commissioner and the governor had closed all bear hunts for both residents and none residents," Richards said.

According to Richards, his organization does support the non-resident hunt cancellations, as a means of protecting communities that might otherwise be exposed to visitors from an area with a a COVID-19 presence. Richards also acknowledges the financial implications that many guides will now face.

"We're not anti-guide at all. We have a few guide members," he said. "Certainly we feel for them, but it is what it is. This is just a strange time, where this kind of thing had to happen."

Sam Rohrer, a second generation guide and the owner/operator of Rohrer Bear Camp also serves as the president of the Alaska Professional Hunters Association. He says that the move to close down non-resident hunts will hurt many guide operations, but it wasn't unexpected in light of recent developments.

"I certainly wasn't surprised when I saw that," Rohrer said. " I guess I saw the writing on the wall earlier in March. It just seemed like that was the next step."

According to Rohrer, he will likely lose out on two-thirds of his yearly business income with the loss of the spring bear season.

The non-resident spring bear hunt in Kodiak brings 2.5 to 3 million dollars to our island every year," he said. "That's all lost and frankly, there's no way to replace that."

While Kodiak is one of the more popular communities for those looking to bag an Alaskan brown bear, it's certainly not the only one. Rohrer tells KTUU that guided hunting brings in an estimated $78 million statewide, and that around half of that stays in rural communities.

"It provides around 2,200 jobs -- granted a lot of the jobs are seasonal, but again over half of these jobs are in rural Alaska," Rohrer said.

Despite the importance of the spring bear hunt for their livelihood, Rohrer says that many of the other guides he has talked with understand the role they serve in minimizing exposure for the rural villages in areas where they operate.

"Speaking for myself, but hearing a lot of other guides saying similar things... None of us want to be responsible for bringing this virus into our communities," he said. "Even if the state hadn't closed down or the quarantine was not in effect, I think you would've seen a lot of us choose not to operate."

Even with Alaskans back in the hunt, only about a quarter of the 100 tags drawn for Kodiak Island belong to residents of the area. With travel restrictions in place, it looks unlikely that a majority of the hunters hoping to take a Kodiak brown bear will have their chance in 2020.

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