Story last updated at 1:58 p.m. Thursday, May 9, 2002

Citizens should put a stop to bear baiting
by Edgar Bailey
Point of View

The April 24 Anchorage Daily News front page story regarding a bear-baiter who shot a "raging" brown bear on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge again underscores the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's and the Refuge's misguided policy of permitting the deposition of fryer grease, fish offal, stale pastries, syrup and other garbage in the woods to attract and kill bears. Some baiters smear cooking grease on the ground so bears track it to lure others to a bait station.

As the article stated, the brown bear shot was a "rogue that had been fattening up for years at black bear stations in the area." This is yet another account of continuing habituation of both black and brown bears to human-scented food garbage which poses a hazard to humans and often ultimately results in nuisance bears which are killed in defense of life and property.

Less than 300 brown bears are estimated on the Kenai Peninsula and thus are listed as a "species meriting special concern." Fish and Game's own data in Southcentral and Interior portions of the state revealed that nearly 300 brown bears and 550 cubs, both black and brown, were observed feeding at black bear bait sites during one year, but not shot. On the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, 110 brown bears were reported at bait stations between 1989 and 1999.

Ironically, a day after the Daily News story, Larry Lewis of Fish and Game, stated in an article published in the Homer News that Kenai bruins are on the prowl, so people should lock up their dog food and remove their bird feeders. He also said bear nuisance reports come in when bears become habituated, or accustomed to humans. Leaving out garbage, fruit and pet food attracts these hungry mammals into residential areas.

"We all have a responsibility with these bears. And that responsibility entails keeping food away. Any type of attractant for bears is bad."

Recently on KBBI radio Lewis said most bear baiters rarely violated regulations. However, Fish and Game's own data in a four-year period recorded over 300 violations, including shooting brown bears over bait. Violations, especially leaving trash, also are common on the refuge.

Although it is unlawful to deliberately feed bears, simple negligence that attracts them, for example, careless handling of garbage, will soon become a punishable offense. However, the Alaska Board of Game, state Fish and Game, and refuge officials see no problem with feeding bears in the name of "hunting."

For years state and federal wildlife, park, and forest agencies have inculcated the public with mottos like "pack out what you pack in" and "a fed bear is a dead bear." Also, in an October 2000 letter to the Anchorage Daily News, state Fish and Game's commissioner Frank Rue was quoted stating that "keeping human food away from wildlife is the most important thing Alaskans can do to safely coexist with wildlife."

What hypocrisy and deplorable wildlife management!

In 1994 Fish and Game paid for a poll to determine characteristics and attitudes towards wildlife. Regarding bear-baiting, a statewide breakdown of 2,370 weighted responses from Alaskan voters revealed that only 22 percent of Alaskan adults approved of baiting bears. Even only 31 percent of hunters approved of this type of non fair-chase hunting, and only 19 percent of Natives found baiting acceptable. Obviously the hunter-monopolized Board of Game and Fish and Game chose to simply ignore the clear results of this poll. Bear baiting was illegal in Alaska until 1982, and baiters account for only 2 percent of all Alaskan hunters.

A new poll will update these data, and it will likely affirm that baiting is now even more disdained. Only eight other states still allow this nefarious practice.

Since there has been no indication that the Board of Game will again prohibit baiting, the only other means is a citizens' ballot initiative, the same process that recently banned bear-baiting in several other states and outlawed same-day airborne wolf hunting in Alaska.

The Board of Game, Fish and Game and some individuals and organizations like Safari Club International and the Alaska Outdoor Council will again rail against so-called "ballot-box biology" and tout that wildlife management should be left to the "professionals." Remember, in the 2000 general election the Board of Game and many Fish and Game biologists actively supported Ballot Measure No. 1, which would have abrogated the constitutional rights of Alaskans to vote on any future wildlife issues like baiting. Obviously these "professionals" continue to cater to a tiny minority, which leaves letting Alaska's voters to decide this issue as the only recourse.

<> Homer area resident and landowner Edgar Bailey is a retired wildlife biologist formerly with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and on the board of directors of the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society.