The Alaska Board of Game will consider new restrictions on local bear hunts at its meeting next month in Juneau.
One proposal calls for the elimination of bear baiting by hunters, saying the valley is too populated for the practice to be safe. Another, suggested by the Department of Fish and Game, caps the number of nonresident brown bear hunts at 12 per year.
Longtime bear guide Al Gilliam submitted the proposal to ban baiting. "It should be illegal to bait bears," he said this week, noting other management units in Southeast already have instituted such bans.
The practice is undesirable because it violates the "fair-chase" principle of hunting. It's also dangerous, he said. "It's a bad situation. Baiting conditions the bears to accept handouts from humans."
Gilliam's written proposal elaborates his concerns. "It is my understanding that up to 40 registered bait stations have been permitted in the Haines area at one time. Some of these bait stations do not have properly erected signs to inform the public of their location. ... Bait stations, in effect, alter the (bear's) natural range, (and) concentrates some the bears in the area of the bait station."
One alternative to baiting is use of a scent-based attractant, Gilliam said. "People could use oil or sugar-based products soaked in rotting wood or soil, which could no be detected as bait. That doesn't condition bears that humans are a food source."
Wildlife biologist Polly Hessing said Fish and Game is in the process of formulating a stance on bear baiting and Gilliam's proposal. "People have expressed concerns," she said.
Hessing said the department is concerned about the brown bear population in North Lynn Canal, which is estimated at 400.
"This is an area where brown bears have been seen and shot at bait stations," she said. "We're concerned about the bears being conditioned toward bait stations for food."
Concerned the population is at risk of being overharvested, Fish and Game is asking the Board of Game to limit the number of nonresident bear hunts in North Lynn Canal
The area, which is mostly state land, experienced an increase in guide activity when restrictions on brown bear guides were established in the Tongass National Forest, the department asserts.
Commercial hunts are not controlled on state land, making hunting regulations the only feasible method for stabilizing the nonresident brown bear harvest, which has increased at an annual rate of 7.7 percent from 1990 to 2001, with a high of 15 brown bears being harvested in 2000, according to the Department of Fish and Game.
The department's proposal would allow nonresident hunters one bear every four regulatory years by a lottery-based permit selection, with no more than 12 permits issued each year.
Hessing said a limit is appropriate to protect the brown bear population, which she said at current harvest levels is secure. The area's current guideline harvest is 16 bears, with kills of nuisance bears counted against the total.
Hessing said the proposal was written to begin dialogue about the issue. "Hopefully it will open the door for discussion."
Resident bear hunts would not be affected