Photographer charged with baiting

Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2009

ANCHORAGE - An Alaska wildlife photographer pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of baiting bears without a permit while shooting pictures for a History Channel show.

Jim Oltersdorf of Soldotna is accused of hanging bait over a scale to draw bears to weigh in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. It was for an episode of the show "MonsterQuest." The episode, "Giant Bear Attack," first aired in September 2008.

Oltersdorf's lawyer, Brent Cole, told The Anchorage Daily News it was not bear-baiting because the photographer was not hunting.

"It may be a public nuisance, it may be something else, but it's certainly not a bear-baiting station, as anybody in Alaska would know," Cole said.

But Fish and Wildlife spokesman Bruce Woods said Thursday that baiting bears does not require one to be hunting. He said it is illegal to bait brown bears in the refuge under any circumstances, and that doing so with black bears requires a permit.

Cole said Oltersdorf decided to plead not guilty this week instead of paying a $175 fine because he has no criminal history and is a reputable photographer. If convicted, he could face up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Trial is set for Nov. 4.

According to a synopsis on Oltersdorf's personal Web site, the show was to examine whether bears are getting more assertive and aggressive.

According to a complaint filed in federal court by Fish and Wildlife officer Jim Wittkop, the episode depicts Oltersdorf "hanging bait on strings over a large scale to draw in bears to weigh. Oltersdorf also sets up motion activated cameras around the bait to photograph any bears that came into the bait station."

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