Online video raises questions about Katmai grizzly bear hunt

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2007

ANCHORAGE - A video that shows the legal but apparently easy kill of a grizzly by hunters in Katmai National Preserve early this week was posted Friday on YouTube.

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The four-minute-plus video, made by professional videographer Daniel Zatz of Homer, Alaska, shows a female being hit with an arrow from a bow fired by a man who was able to walk to within about 40 feet of the bear.

The incident, Zatz said, occurred Monday, the first day of a three-week open hunt in the preserve portion of Katmai National Park and Preserve.

The video shows two hunters and their guide, according to Zatz, as they move in close to a blondish brown bear at Narrow Cove, an arm of Kukaklek Lake.

The bear has been fishing in the water and is walking through brush above the cove. One of the men lifts a crossbow to his shoulder, pauses and shoots. The bear jerks sharply, twists and jumps away.

Another man - the guide, according to Zatz - fires a rifle to finish the animal.

The bear's carcass is never seen, although later a different hunter is shown skinning a bear in a shallow stream. Several bears were taken on Monday, according to Zatz.

The edited video captures two from the party of three hunters in what appears to be a celebration, with one man perhaps holding a small video camera of his own and a second man moving in close as if to give a high-five hand slap.

The hunters, including the guide who fired the rifle, are not identified in the video. Their names and hometowns were unavailable.

The owner of the guiding outfit that brought the hunters in says in a written statement that Zatz and a television camera crew interfered with a legal hunt and that the Katmai bears are no more used to people than bears at other salmon-rich streams.

The issue of brown bear hunting in the Katmai preserve, on the Alaska Peninsula, already was contentious. It pits the many people who enjoy watching the plentiful bears there during the summer against the relative few who hunt them every other fall and spring.

The video's depiction of hunters standing or walking close to several grizzlies, sometimes within 10 yards or so, while the bears exhibit no apparent concern is nearly certain to add fuel to that quarrel.

In an interview with the Anchorage Daily News on Friday, Zatz said he made the video to reopen just such a discussion. He and others say the Katmai bears have become so tolerant of the presence of people, including the many sport anglers who fish the area's waters and visitors who are flown in expressly to observe the animals in their habitat, that it's unfair or unsporting to hunt them.

"This is about bears who have learned to trust humans," Zatz said. "It's a question of ethics. It's a question of fair chase. People can decide on their own when they see the video if this is fair chase."

"Fair chase" is the question of whether a given hunt is ethical and sportsmanlike, or if the hunter exploits an unfair advantage over the prey, as defined by hunters' organizations.

The hunters who shot the Katmai grizzly achieved "their proximity without much of a stalk. It looks more like a saunter through tundra," said Sean Farley, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's regional biologist for a large part of the state that includes the Alaska Peninsula.

"It's not fair chase."

Farley saw the video Friday afternoon. It surprised him, he said.

"I feel personally remiss as the regional biologist that I haven't thought it out that this is what's going on out there," Farley said. "Not until I saw the video did I realize how bad it is. It's not appropriate."

Phone calls seeking comment from Rod Arno, executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, an organization that supports hunters' rights and access to wildlife on public lands, were not returned Friday.

In a statement, Hamilton says that Monday was a "very sad day" because the "hunters were participating in a perfectly legal hunt (and) had their entire experience ruined by others who chose to use illegal methods to harass and interfere with their hunt."

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