In August 1, the government of the Russian Federation issued the region-by-region hunting quotas for that country. (The USSR, or Soviet Union, no longer exists as such. It is now the Russian Federation.) The quotas are set by a "panel of experts" that is convened at the national, federal level. The quotas cover the period of August 1, 2005, until the same date in 2006. There are 86 administrative regions in Russia and all are covered by the order. The expert panel sets a separate quota for each game species in each of the 86 administrative regions.
There have recently been some confusing reports of a hunting ban in Russia in the media. The local hunting organizations and authorities were frustrated by the reports because they were not entirely true. The local interests explain that most hunting in the Spring is bird hunting and that it was open as usual this past Spring. General big game hunting has never been open in the Spring, so it was not closed at all. Bear hunting alone was not authorized, as distinguished from being closed or banned. There was a change in the sign-off authority for big game that delayed the Spring bear opening until after that season had passed. That was due to the transition of authority between different ministries, not any plan or intended closure. Since most hunting in the Spring is bird hunting, most hunting was in fact open this past Spring.
There is one area that is closed to Spring bear hunting and remains so at this time, that is Kamchatka, which is so popular to tourist hunters. A quota of 500 bears is specified in the August quota listed for Kamchatka, but with a footnote that the hunting is only to be in the Fall hunt, not Spring. The Kamchatka governor temporarily closed the Spring bear hunt. That closure is now in litigation. The quota is the same as it would be and has been for both Spring and Fall. The litigation may be concluded by next Spring but there is a great deal of confusion at this time within Russian circles about the biological effects and impacts of Spring bear hunting. Some fear that there is an overharvest in the Spring because Spring bear hunting is easier and that too many genetically trophy bears are taken then. Others think that too many large bears (genetically superior) are taken in the Spring by tourist hunters (non-resident aliens) who target the largest bears. We are growing accustomed to that argument for various species of big game from residents antagonized by outfitters and outfitted non-residents around the world for all trophy game species. The primary authority for the argument that "trophy hunting" by non-residents is causing genetic degradation is the Ram Mountain Study in Alberta that documented a decrease in the body size and horn size of wild sheep in just a few generations. Although it is used as cannon fodder for some resident hunting interests and others opposed to trophy hunting in principle, the results of the study are widely misunderstood and misrepresented. Ram Mountain was not managed for trophies at all. It was used as a non-trophy, high-offtake meat and subsistence hunting area. Had it been managed as a trophy hunting area, such as with full-curl ram restrictions and/or lower quotas, the authors of the study conclude that body and horn size would not have declined. In other words, the study documents the advantages of trophy hunting management, not the opposite. It is being mis-cited and erroneously accepted, when in fact the area of the study was not managed for trophy hunting and that choice of management caused the decrease in size. The fact that there was a decline should not be confused with the cause of the decline. It was not managed as we manage most sheep and other big game today. Do not presume from the fact that there was a documented decline in size that trophy hunting was the cause. It was not managed as a trophy hunting area at all. It was a high volume meat hunt. The decline in size is not what is being experienced in trophy hunting areas around the world. Game is getting bigger in many instances. It is being managed to live and reproduce longer.
Conservation Force’s own opinion is that Spring hunting is preferable precisely because it is more selective. Large boars are the first to come out of hibernation and travel about in the Spring, which means females for the most part, which are so much more important to reproduction, are spared. Moreover, the largest boars that have been alive long enough to be large trophies because of the management regime, have already spread their genes. They don’t wait until they are old and on the down side to mate. If they were shot sooner, they would never become trophies.
Many fear that poaching will worsen during the Spring if hunting remains closed. We share that concern. Kamchatka is divided into 80 hunting leases and those lessees (lease holders) are the primary means of controlling poaching. It is worth noting that there was a workshop entitled Developing a Reliable Monitoring System for the Brown Bears of Kamchatka in August, 2004. It was apparently conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society with a goal to develop better methods to estimate bear population size and trends in Kamchatka. Despite the fact that the method that had been used in the past was established by World Wildlife Fund and was considered conservative, the Kamchatka Department of Wildlife Conservation and Management and the Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Institute of Geography attempted to raise the bar. Five recommendations were made: (1) Factor in the "sightability" of bear to obtain more accurate population estimates; (2) Change the survey technique from quadrants to line transects because of its many advantages; (3) Implement a tetracycline biomarker–capture pilot study; (4) Collect teeth (and analyze) from all trophy bears harvested to detect changes in age structure; and (5) Conduct a study to better ascertain the degree of the unreported bear kills from poaching.
Although this is a state-of-the-art plan, we hope that it did not contribute to the closure of the Spring hunt. We’ve watched the periodic false alarms about the status of Kamchatka bear over the past 15 years and have found them to be "crying wolf". The sooner Spring bear hunting is opened, the less time the poachers will have it to themselves.