Empire editorial: Ban touches on what it means to be an Alaska outdoorsman

Posted: Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The state ballot measure to ban bear baiting has struck a nerve because it hits on several issues close to Alaskans' hearts: the right to hunt, the ethics of a fair chase and the freedom to live as they choose, without being told what to do by people from Outside.

One of the big fallacies in the bear-baiting debate is that the campaign for the ban was orchestrated by animal-loving forces from the Lower 48. Instead, the initiative effort was spearheaded by an Alaska-based group, Citizens United Against Bear Baiting, or CUBB. Among other Alaskans involved in CUBB is Juneau's Joel Bennett, a former member of the Alaska Board of Game.

As opponents of the ban were spreading false information that the ballot measure was being backed by "out-of-state extremists like Greenpeace and PETA," the group fighting the initiative has enjoyed major financial support from Ballot Issues Coalition of Vienna, Va., a group that fights initiatives to limit hunting; Safari Club International and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

Supporters of the bear-baiting ban argue that the practice should be halted because it habituates bears to human food, leading to human-bear conflicts in which bears are inevitably the losers. But no real evidence shows that this is the case, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists. Bear-baiting stations are strictly regulated, removed from people's homes or businesses and do not lead to bears associating food with humans, because people are either not around or hiding in wait for their prey.

Essentially, the bear-baiting debate boils down to a question of hunting ethics: Is it fair to slather a site with bacon grease, leave rotting meat in the woods or pile up donuts so that a hunter can lie in wait for a black bear? This questions circles back to what it means to be Alaskan. Is it quintessentially Alaskan to leave garbage in the woods so that all a hunter has to do is line up a shot? That hardly seems like the essence of the Alaskan spirit. Rather, being a true Alaska outdoorsman means developing enough skills to track a bear in the woods and be able to get close enough to fire a clean shot.

Oddly, some bowhunters, who need to shoot at close range, argue for bear baiting because of the difficulty in taking bears without it. It's a strange argument coming from a group of people who have chosen a method of hunting whose great appeal is the increased challenge. They then choose to counter the added challenge by something as cheap as leaving out garbage to draw in their prey.

Hunting is about more than simply killing and taking home the booty. It is about developing outdoors skills that enable someone to pursue an animal in its natural environment. The integrity of Alaska hunting needs to be preserved. Bear baiting should be banned to maintain the highest standards for hunting in Alaska.

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