- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

KODIAK, Alaska (AP) - A recently completed study shows that southwest Kodiak’s bear population is on the rise after seeing a significant drop in 2010.

The bears were studied through a partnership between the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and the University of Montana. Will Deacy and his colleagues studied several streams in southwest Kodiak over a four-year period to track how bears respond to salmon runs, KMXT-FM reported (http://bit.ly/29nro5l ).

In looking at the different bodies of water - including the tributaries to Karluk, Frazer, and Red lakes - Deacy found that a bear’s mobility is crucial to its diet.

“This is really important because each individual spawning population might only be spawning for two or three weeks, so it’s a very brief time, and if they only ate salmon at that one spot, their salmon consumption would be very low, but by stringing together multiple sites where each population’s providing salmon for three weeks at a time, they can consume salmon for much longer, like three months.”

Deacy said they got the idea for the study in 2010 after seeing a large decline in bears in southwest Kodiak. A lack of nutritional resources appears to have caused the decrease, he said.

Throughout the study, researchers found that early salmon runs and elderberries were important to bear diets.

“And what we saw is that the two years preceding the decline documented in 2010, we had very, very low early sockeye escapement in the Karluk Basin, so less than 50,000, which is about a tenth of what had occurred in the high just five years before, and then we also had two very cold, wet years which tend to produce really low berry productivity,” Deacy said.

Over the past two years, Deacy said, the population of bear cubs has grown in southwest Kodiak as salmon runs and berry growth have improved.

“The last two years in particular were very, very warm and that changed the vegetation community for the bears,” Deacy said. “Normally, salmon runs and berries are available at two different times, and this last two years they occurred at the same time.”

The partnership between the refuge and the university completed its fourth and final year this past winter.

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