For the first time since Alaska became a U.S. state, hunters will be allowed to use bait to lure and kill grizzly bears under a program intended to boost moose populations in parts of interior Alaska.
ANCHORGE — For the first time since Alaska became a U.S. state, hunters will be allowed to use bait to lure and kill grizzly bears under a program intended to boost moose populations in parts of interior Alaska.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game began issuing permits last week for a predator-control program aimed at clearing out the majority of grizzlies in a 3,000-square-mile area of brushy terrain and tundra near the Canadian border.
The program, launched on April 1, allows permitted hunters to use bear-attracting food to lure the animals to spots where they can be shot. The practice, though used in the distant past, was not permitted during the 46 years of Alaskan statehood.
Alaska hunters have long been allowed to use bait to lure black bears, but that practice was never extended to the larger and less plentiful grizzlies and coast-dwelling brown bears.
Critics say it is unethical and dangerous because it acquaints bears with human and pet food, such as the stale pastries and bacon grease used at bait stations. Alaska voters last fall rejected a ballot initiative that would have outlawed the practice.
The Alaska Board of Game, a panel appointed by Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski, has determined that the grizzly bear-killing program is needed to increase residents' opportunities to successfully hunt moose, said Fish and Game spokeswoman Cathie Harms.
"The moose population is depressed. It's at densities not quite but close to half of what the board had held as an objective," Harms said.
Critics say the program could devastate the grizzlies, animals with slow reproductive rates, with no real benefit to the moose.
"It's unconscionable, as far as I'm concerned," said John Toppenberg, director of the Anchorage-based Alaska Wildlife Alliance, "There's no real science to back that up. What you have is some people complaining that there's not as many moose to shoot as there were in the 40s, and so on."
Harms said state officials have concluded that in this part of Alaska, grizzlies are the main source of predation on moose, followed by wolves and black bears.
An estimated 135 grizzly bears live in the targeted area, and the program seeks to have up to 81 of those killed, state officials said. The target area is included in a program that has allowed aircraft-assisted hunters to kill 266 wolves since November, according to Fish and Game figures.