White bear gets a pass

Game Board chides scattershot duck hunters

Posted: Friday, November 08, 2002

The state Board of Game will protect rare white-colored black bears in the Juneau area and educate Mendenhall Wetlands duck hunters about courtesy, rather than close part of the game refuge.

The seven-member panel, convening since Saturday at Centennial Hall, closed its biennial Southeast meeting Thursday with consideration of some Juneau, regional and statewide issues. Board member Tim Towarak of Nome was absent.

Local resident Pat Costello's August photographs of the white-colored bear were publicized on his Web site and became the subject of worldwide media coverage. The Game Board later that month issued a temporary emergency order to protect white-colored black bears in the Juneau area from hunting.

On Thursday the board unanimously made the order permanent.

The white-colored black bear attracted hundreds of e-mailed messages from Juneau and around the country in its favor and a petition of 110 local people to let it be hunted.

"I think it's a special, unique resource that is widely recognized, not just in Alaska," said board member Joel Bennett of Juneau. "We have precedent elsewhere in Alaska for (protecting) a white moose. It's one of those things, as well, that helps to build a bridge between consumptive users and nonconsumptive users."

Board of Game actions


The state Board of Game, meeting in Juneau this week, took these actions, among others:

• Added reporting requirements for Native religious potlatches.

State wildlife enforcement officials said they investigate many complaints about poaching only to discover some catches were lawful for Native religious potlatches.

Officials wanted some way to know when the catch was to be taken for a potlatch and what was bagged. But that request bumped up against a Native ethical code that requires the respectful treatment of animals in order to have hunting success, said Will Mayo, Gov. Tony Knowles' senior adviser on rural affairs.

"A hunter goes out and says, 'I'm going to go look around,' not indicating they hope to catch something," Mayo told the Game Board on Monday.

The compromise, worked out with the Tanana Chiefs Conference and Interior Native villages, requires tribes or hunters to tell the state when and where a big-game hunt for a potlatch will take place, and report the catch afterward.

• Expanded the area for archers to hunt goats near Juneau, let the state increase the cow-moose hunt in Gustavus, let more people hunt for moose in Haines, and opened a fall brown bear hunt on northeast Chichagof Island.

• Limited the number of nonresidents' brown bear hunts in Haines because a freeze on new guides on federal lands in Southeast could push guided hunts to state lands near the town.

• Limited the cable size of land snares in Gustavus, required Gustavus trappers to check their gear every three days, and required Gustavus trappers to identify their gear with a name or number.

• Banned black-bear baiting within a mile of some roads in Haines.

But some hunters were concerned the term white-colored wasn't well-defined. They worried hunters who killed gray bears could be prosecuted.

Hunters also objected to setting a precedent for managing single types of animals rather than whole populations.

"Southeast is home to many shades and color of black bear," Barry Brokken told the board Sunday. "To single out one color for protection begs the question why."

S.D. Paris of Wales, sending an e-mail to the Game Board through Costello, had visited Juneau last year.

Letting the bear be killed "would be tantamount to allowing someone to enter a museum and destroy a unique item just so they could take a piece home," Paris wrote.

In another Juneau issue, the Game Board voted 6-0 Wednesday to try educating waterfowl hunters in the Mendenhall Wetlands about safety and consideration for homeowners, rather than close portions of the state game refuge to hunters. About 600 to 800 people hunt in the refuge each year, state wildlife managers said.

Juneau resident Melissa Green, who lives next to the wetlands, testified hunters have sprayed her house and her husband with shot. She asked the Game Board to create a no-hunting buffer around houses.

But the board agreed with a proposal by the state Department of Fish and Game to require Mendenhall Wetlands hunters to register at no cost each season. It would give officials the opportunity to talk to hunters. Those who don't register won't be allowed to hunt in the wetlands the following year.

"The hunters need to solve the problem or risk a larger closure later on," said board member Bennett.

A buffer would have eliminated a large part of the refuge, said Fish and Game Deputy Director Matt Robus. A quarter-mile buffer, for example, would have cut the refuge from 5.9 acres to 3.7 acres.

Although Green hadn't specified what size buffer she wanted, her proposal cited a quarter-mile as an example. In her comments to the Game Board on Sunday, she suggested a buffer based on natural boundaries because it would be easier to comply with.

Some residents, in written comments, said a buffer would only force hunters into a smaller and less safe area. A buffer would lead to more hunters firing from the middle of the refuge toward its populated edges, they said.

Green told board members that hunters have shot toward her house from ranges of 70 yards to 290 yards, mostly when the house was in plain view. She said her husband was struck twice by shot while he was in their yard. He was not seriously injured.

"We simply don't want to be shot anymore," Green said.

Green said registering hunters doesn't solve the problem. Area wildlife biologist Neil Barten, although urging hunter education for now, has conceded that a similar effort in Anchorage wetlands failed and resulted in a closure.

The Game Board on Tuesday, in the meeting's hottest issue, voted to protect wolves on Douglas Island from hunting and trapping until the wolf population builds up or the number of deer declines drastically.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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