At the Nov. 2-5 meeting in Juneau, the Alaska Board of Game will vote on whether to allow bear baiting in Juneau for the first time in history. Also, in the statewide general election on Nov. 2, Alaskans will be voting on Proposition 3, the measure that would prohibit bear baiting statewide.
Bear baiting has no place in Alaska as a responsible hunting method. The practice conditions bears to human food, is unsportsmanlike and is unnecessary for game management.
Putting out smelly bacon grease, pastries, dog food, honey and other human food lures bears in to a bait site where they get used to the easy handouts. This conditions bears to unnatural human food, causing associations of food to people which leads to nuisance or problem bears. Since black bear cubs, mothers with cubs and brown bears are not legal to shoot over bait, many bears go off to become nuisance "garbage" bears or public safety hazards. Other bears that hunters choose not to shoot for a variety of reasons at bait stations go off to become potential problems as well.
All public agencies and local governments warn that improper use of human food in bear country is the greatest single problem facing people and bears. In the Alaska Department of Fish and Game handout pamphlet, "Bear Facts," it states: "It is both foolish and illegal to feed bears, either on purpose or by leaving food or garbage that attracts them." In the publication, "Bears and You," on ADFG's Web site, bear biologist John Hechtel is quoted as saying, "95 percent of food-conditioned bears will eventually become nuisances and have to be killed." Creating a legal exception in the state's hunting regulations that results in food conditioned bears is unwise and totally inconsistent with these statements and principles.
While the problem of bear-food conditioning argument ought to be enough to rule out bear baiting, there is another issue which should be important to most Alaskans: Fair-chase hunting. Responsible hunters adhere to commonly acceptable principles of fair chase and sportsmanship. Sportsman's groups usually define it like the Boon and Crocket Club does: a method of hunting that doesn't give the hunter an improper advantage over the animal. By any definition, using garbage to lure in an unsuspecting animal constitutes an improper advantage. This is all the more obvious because no other game animal can be baited with food in Alaska. Disregard for the principle of fair chase reflects poorly on other more responsible hunters.
In addition, bear baiting is not necessary to game management in Alaska. Adequate numbers of black bears can be harvested through conventional ground pursuit without bait. To increase the bear harvest, seasons can be lengthened and license and tag fees reduced. Of the 27 states that allow bear hunting, 18 of them prohibit bear baiting and manage bears just fine. In Washington state, where bear baiting was banned in 1996, the number of bears killed by hunters increased from 844 in 1997 to 1,439 in 2001. The same trend occurred in Oregon and Colorado after bear baiting was banned in 1992 and 1994, respectfully.
To authorize bear baiting in Juneau for the first time would create additional serious problems in an urban area that is already struggling to resolve food conditioned bears from improper garbage storage. The constricted geography of Juneau would produce more conflicts for people and bears. To vote yes on Ballot Proposition 3 will address the practice statewide. It was organized by Citizen's United Against Bear Baiting, a group of long-time Alaskans that includes hunting guides, former Game Board members, sportsmen and other wildlife enthusiasts. There are no animal rights or animal protection groups involved in any way and no outside interests had a role in forming or influencing this group.
The future of responsible hunting in Alaska will be best served without the practice of bear baiting.
Joel Bennett lives in Juneau and is the co-chairperson for Citizen's United Against Bear Baiting.