Hunting group takes aim at black bears

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A private hunting group hopes to help hundreds of hunters kill as many black bears as possible in a game unit west of Anchorage.

The nonprofit group Alaska chapter of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife wants to rotate hunters through about a dozen camps and baiting stations in Game Management Unit 16B, where state biologists estimate there are only about two moose to every black bear.

Ralph Seekins, a founding SFW board member and former state senator, said the group's mission fits in nicely with predator control, which is under way in the game unit.

"In a lot of situations, when you have a declining or depleted prey population, oftentimes the quickest turnaround is to apply some targeted predator management," said Corey Rossi, a board member of sister organization Sportsmen for Habitat, which works with SFW. "That doesn't mean a war on bears any more than it would mean a war on wolves or any other predator."

The hunting group's effort involves rotating several hundred people in six-day shifts into about a dozen camps, timed to coincide with the legal baiting season in the area, from April 15 to June 30, Rossi said. The group will assist hunters with bait, food and transportation costs where possible, he said.

The effort aims to assist the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's attempts to dramatically reduce the number of bears in the game unit. The bears kill spring calves before they can run on the unit's marshy terrain, said area wildlife biologist Tony Kavalok.

The area lies north and west of Cook Inlet generally from Redoubt Bay to Denali National Preserve.

There are between 3,600 and 3,700 moose in the area, fewer than one per square mile, Kavalok said. Officials are hoping to increase that to about 6,500, but that is difficult to do with about 1,900 black bears, he said.

Fish and Game wants to reduce the black bear population by roughly 60 percent, or to about 760 bears, he said. To do that, the game board liberalized regulations in the unit last April by declaring open season on black bears for bear control permit-holders, who are allowed to bait black bears using dog food, carcasses or other foods and kill an unlimited number of them, including cubs and sows with cubs.

Not everyone agrees there is a need to control the black bear population in the area.

Dave Lyon, co-chairman of Alaska Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a nonprofit that promotes ethical hunting practices, said his group is not opposed to predator control when it is necessary, but that doesn't seem to be the case in this unit.

Lyon said the black bear numbers in the unit appear inflated.

The hunting group going out and "killing everything with pointy teeth" will only result in bad publicity for hunters in general, he said. "They want to game farm, and pretty much they have one song they sing, and it's predator control," he said. "We don't believe that just so hunters can go kill more moose is a good reason to go kill a bunch of bears."



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