Game Board agenda: White bear to wolves

Panel to tackle range of issues that often pit viewers against hunters and trappers

Posted: Monday, October 21, 2002

Many different kinds of people answer the call of the wild. The state Board of Game, when it convenes in Juneau next month, will decide among the conflicting interests of people who shoot or trap wildlife and those who just want to look at animals.

The Game Board, meeting Nov. 1-7 at Centennial Hall, mostly will take up hunting and trapping proposals that affect Southeast.

For Juneau residents, hot issues are likely to include proposals to protect rare, white-colored black bears from hunters, to halt the hunting and trapping of wolves on Douglas Island until a sustainable population has built up, and to register waterfowl hunters who use the Mendenhall Wetlands or stop them from hunting near homes.

The Game Board, in a temporary emergency order in late August, forbade the hunting of white-colored black bears in the Juneau area. It acted at the request of local resident Pat Costello, whose photographs of such a bear led to media reports that went around the world.

The Game Board next month will consider making its order permanent.

"Some people would like to take pictures of the bear. Some would like to shoot it," Neil Barten, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, told the Juneau Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee last week.

All but one of the advisory committee members - composed of anglers, commercial fishermen, hunters, trappers and an environmentalist - opposed the permanent rule, saying the term "white-colored" in the rule was too vague. They were concerned hunters who shoot the gray-colored black bears known as glacier bears would be punished or inhibited under the proposed rule.

"It is a problematic thing," Barten said. "If someone shoots a bear that's kind of white, what do you do?"

But Costello, in an interview, said "there's no way to confuse this white bear with anything else."

Costello said it was "extremely short-sighted" of the advisory committee to not want to protect the white bear. A backlash against hunting and Juneau could result if the bear were killed, he said.

"It's absolutely unique," Costello said. "There's thousands of bears around Juneau. There's plenty of opportunity to shoot a bear. ... It means something to people. And to think one person can go out and shoot it to place on their wall denies all other people the opportunity to go out and see it."

In January one person on Douglas Island legally trapped a pack of seven wolves - not necessarily all the wolves that live on the island. The act spurred the proposal to halt hunting and trapping of wolves on the island until the state can manage for a sustainable population there. It's a proposal that alarms deer hunters.

"This was the first wolf pack to establish itself on Douglas Island in 20 to 25 years," said Jenny Pursell, who co-founded Voices for Douglas Island Wildlife, which wrote the proposal. She said the group has about 130 members.

How to comment

Copies of the proposals before the Game Board are available online at, and on paper at Alaska Department of Fish and Game offices.

Written comments may be faxed to the Game Board at 465-6094 before the meeting.

Public testimony will be taken at the beginning of the meeting each day until the board begins deliberation. Those wanting to testify must sign up before 3 p.m. Nov. 2. Call (907) 459-7215 or 465-2027 for more information.

The pack that was trapped apparently was seen by kayakers, hikers and pilots in the summer of 2001. Tom Lee saw the wolves on a beach near Hilda Point while he worked on a tour boat.

"I was absolutely overwhelmed with awe," he said. "It's an incredible experience to see a grizzly bear, to see any wildlife. But wolves are such a rare sighting."

He said the tour boat passengers were quiet while they watched the wolves and exuberant afterward.

The advisory committee voted 9-1 against the proposal. The majority was concerned a temporary ban would be permanent in practice because state biologists wouldn't be able to manage for a sustainable population of wolves.

Barten, the wildlife biologist, said Fish and Game saw the proposal as an allocation issue between "nonconsumptive and consumptive" users.

But he said it would be difficult for the agency to manage wolves on Douglas separately from the Juneau area. Wolves move back and forth from the mainland to the island. And it would be hard, in the island's rugged terrain, for biologists to count the wolves and know when there are enough to allow hunting and trapping, he said.

Hunters and trappers kill about eight wolves a year in the Juneau area, he said.

Other Game Board issues

Other selected issues before the Board of Game:

• Limit nonresident brown-bear hunters in the Haines area.

• Reopen the northeast part of Chichagof Island to brown-bear hunting in the fall.

• Increase opportunities to hunt elk on Etolin and Zarembo islands.

• Increase opportunities to hunt cow moose in Gustavus.

• Forbid use of snares in Gustavus, to protect moose and pets.

• Require trappers in Gustavus to mark their traps with their identity.

• Close trapping and snaring within a quarter-mile of roads, trails, buildings or the high tide line in Southeast.

• Require traps and snares in Southeast be checked every 24 hours.

• Prohibit black bear baiting in Southeast.

• Close hunting in Idaho Inlet within one mile of the river estuary at the head of the bay.

• Deny renewal of permits to unsuccessful breeders of captive falcons.

• Add to the reporting requirements for taking big game for religious ceremonies such as potlatches.

Barten said Douglas Island is the most heavily used deer-hunting area in Southeast, and wolves prey on deer. About 600 hunters kill 200 or so deer a year on Douglas Island, he said.

Tim Whiting, a hunter who opposes the proposal, said wolves have lived on Douglas even with trapping, and people who view wildlife can see them elsewhere in the Juneau area. A larger wolf population would kill so many deer that hunters would have new limits placed on them, he said.

"There is no way to control the growth of the wolf pack if you don't allow hunting and trapping," Whiting said. "Either you shut the hunters down or you shut the wolves down."

Members of Voices for Douglas Island Wildlife have offered to help biologists do the field work needed to manage a population of wolves, and they say there are methods, such as collaring and DNA analysis of scats, that would provide reliable information on the wolf population.

The Game Board also will consider two proposals designed to stop waterfowl hunters from shooting at houses near the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge. As many as 800 people hunt in the nearly 6-square-mile refuge each year, Barten said.

One proposal, by Melissa Green, who lives near the wetlands, would close an unspecified area near houses to hunting. Since building a home near the wetlands in 2000, her home has been shot numerous times, and her husband was hit by shot once in their yard, she said.

"The protection of all persons and property from gunfire is critical enough to justify reducing the area allowed for waterfowl hunting by a small percentage," she said in the proposal.

Instead, Fish and Game has asked the Game Board to require hunters in the Mendenhall Wetlands to register annually for free with the department, so they can be told about safety and consideration for homeowners. Hunters who don't register won't be allowed to hunt there in the following year.

"Rather than close certain portions of the refuge, what we did is really put a lot of emphasis on education," Barten said of Fish and Game's proposal.

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