Alaska Weighs Ban on Hunters Luring Bears With Food
ANCHORAGE, Alaska Stale doughnuts, lard, honey-drenched dog food: Is this any kind of meal for a wild Alaskan bear?
No, say activists promoting a ballot initiative that would outlaw the controversial practice of bear baiting in Alaska, one of the many states where bear are hunted.
Critics say the practice in which hunters use caches of human or pet food to flush animals out of the woods before shooting them is unethical, biologically unsound, and unsafe.
"It's like going to the zoo and shooting bears that are fed," said Paul Joslin, a biologist with the Anchorage-based Alaska Wildlife Alliance.
Not to mention the increased risks of bear-human clashes. "So much, at great lengths, is done to try to keep bears away from human foods," said Joslin. "So to be taking them certain kinds of foods pastries, dog food, bacon grease could lead to them trying to take the front door of your cabin off."
But defenders of bear baiting say it is a legitimate hunting method and a valuable wildlife-management tool.
In some parts of Alaska, such as the low-lying spruce forests outside Anchorage and Fairbanks, there is no other practical way to hunt bears, they argue. Because only black bears, which are plentiful, may be targeted with bait, there is no danger to the overall population, they say.
There is little difference ethically between shooting a bear at a salmon stream and shooting one at a bait station, bear baiters say.
And a more important issue is at stake, they add.
"I think people are really tired of people from the Lower 48 coming up and telling Alaskans that they can manage our resources better than we can," said Phil Pringle, a past president of the Alaska Bowhunters Association.
Alaska is one of nine states that allows bear baiting. A proposal to outlaw the practice is also on the ballot in Maine.
The initiative is only the latest of several Alaska ballot questions in recent years directed at wildlife management, mostly to the consternation of sport-hunting advocates, who deride the trend as "ballot-box biology."
In 1996 voters banned airborne hunts of wolves. After the state legislature voided that law, voters passed a similar referendum in 2000. In 1998, voters turned down a proposed ban on snaring wolves. Two years later, they rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned all wildlife initiatives.
Some advocates say the initiative trend reflects a dwindling appreciation of hunting.
Even in Alaska, where the hunting lifestyle is venerated, those who actually engage in it are vastly outnumbered. Only 16 percent of Alaskans 16 and older hunted in 2001, compared with 53 percent who engaged in wildlife watching, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
All the more reason to oppose the bear-baiting initiative and other ballot measures concerning wildlife, many sportsmen say.
"Who gets to tell who whose ethics are correct?" said pro-hunting activist Eddie Grasser, who likens this type of initiative, and in fact all ballot initiatives, as potentially creating a "tyranny" of the majority. "Is it really OK for people to impose their values on other people, using government?"