Empire editorial: Real hunters don't go for tame game

Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2006

The state's Board of Game is being asked to tarnish the reputation of Alaska's hunters. Let's hope it refuses.

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The board, meeting this week in Wrangell, is considering proposals to open brown bear hunting on Swan Island and at Swan Cove - areas frequented by many of the same Admiralty Island bears who roam nearby Pack Creek.

People come from all over the world to watch brown bears at Pack Creek, and the animals are more used to humans than the humans are to bears.

A few Juneau hunters are asking the board to let them "hunt" the bears in a protected area next to the viewing area.

Shooting animals that have grown accustomed to people? If you're that lazy, don't call yourself a sportsman.

Supporters of the scheme say hunters target large male trophy bears, while most of the bears viewed in the Pack Creek refuge are sows and cubs. Nonsense, biologists say.

Unlike some animals, such as mountain goats that sexually segregate, brown bears of both genders mix in areas rich with salmon. Field researchers have found that male bears do visit Pack Creek and that these are the same bears seen in the Swan Cove and Swan Island areas.

Proponents of opening the protected areas to brown-bear hunting say that the closure amounts to "overregulation." These people should look on a map.

Brown bear hunters have the run of Admiralty Island, Baranof and Chichagof islands, the Chilkat Peninsula and other parts of the mainland - a vast expanse open to hunting. The closed areas on Admiralty are a handful of acres.

Southeast residents have voiced fierce opposition to the scheme. Naturalists want to protect the small area, one of the few where people can see a high concentration of brown bears in the wild. It's also one of the area's big tourist draws.

Few hunters have spoken out of in favor of the deal. That's because most hunters are sportsmen. Shooting fish in a barrel is not their idea of a good time. Nor is shooting bears who've lost their fear of people.

The Board of Game needs to reject these proposals, which will benefit only a few people, damage a precious wildlife-viewing resource and hurt the reputation of real hunters who like their wild game to be wild.

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