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Bear Sanctuaries No Place for Hunting

Richard Hahn /Voices of the Peninsula / Peninsula Clarion / February 17, 2005

This letter is in opposition to Proposals 137 and 129, which would, if implemented, open the Kamishak Special Use Area (KSUA) and the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, respectively, for brown bear hunting.Ê

I was raised in a hunting, fishing, camping family in Idaho and have harvested several Idaho deer, antelope and elk for the family table.

I gave up hunting with a weapon in 1963 when I realized I did not enjoy killing defenseless animals, and our family no longer needed the meat for dinner. I still hunt - with a camera - and it's very rewarding to me, my family and friends.

For the record, I cannot imagine any self-respecting hunter wanting to hunt in a wildlife sanctuary. If successful (and found out), how would he-she explain to his-her friends that he walked to very close range to a human-tolerant, unsuspecting bear or other critter and killed it with a high-powered weapon. No hunting, no tracking, no fair chase, no danger, little excitement, and certainly no sense of accomplishment!

A question comes to mind: Who would have the audacity to prepare these proposals? With Alaska having some 586,000 square miles of wilderness where, in some areas, there are so many bears the state is paying hunters to shoot them from airplanes, why would the Board of Game entertain the proposed hunting of bears in a state sanctuary (established in 1955) of some 185 square miles and the KSUA (closed to hunting in 1985) of less than 100 square miles where many bear sows breed and raise their young?

These proposals defy all logic unless someone simply doesn't like to hunt but just enjoys killing. These people might just as well to "hunt" at a game farm or a zoo.

My wife and I have had three wonderful experiences bear viewing in Alaska, two at McNeil River (early June, 1990 as tourists and late August, 2003 as Alaska residents), and one at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park (July 2004). For most people in the Lower 48 and elsewhere in the world interested in viewing wildlife in their natural environment, and for many people in Alaska, any one of these five- to seven-day camping adventures would truly be a unique lifetime experience. Observing bear behavior up close in a family setting - resting, roaming, grazing on sedge, digging for clams, nursing, breeding, fishing, cubs wrestling and playing, ever-watchful moms protecting their young against other bears and humans - are sights as educational as they are mind-boggling.

This is much different than one might envision, the great hunter being on the trail of a stalking marauder that might attack at any moment from the protection of an alder thicket! This is about how animals live and survive in the wild when they don't have to worry about the world's worst predator-man.

Bear viewing is a great and growing Alaska tourist attraction, and the bears of McNeil River and Katmai are world famous - enjoyed by millions of people in books, movies, TV and pictures. These bears "pay" their own way. There are lottery fees and viewing fees just for the bears, not to mention purchased plane tickets, food and camping gear, cameras and thousands of rolls of film and film development - all of which contribute to Alaska's economy.Ê And bear viewing is a renewable resource.Ê If the Board of Game rejects these proposals, people will continue to come to see these bears - and there are plenty of bears in Alaska away from these small sanctuaries for people to hunt - in the true meaning of fair chase and hunting.

Bears do not reproduce rapidly and typically have one to three young about every fourth year after the sows mature. The population of the McNeil River bears for viewing is decreasing, possibly because of recent poor salmon runs. However, since bears roam a lot in search of food, it is quite possible some McNeil bears have been harvested elsewhere.

The point is, a dead McNeil or KSUA bear is no longer available for viewing and all except the head, skin and paws (and selected illegal organs) is wasted forever.Ê Brown bears rarely are eaten by humans.Ê Bears for viewing can continue to be viewed for their lifetimes, some 25 to 30 years, and pay dividends to Alaska and reward many thousands of people during that entire time, while renewing their population for posterity, as they live and die naturally. Surely, Alaska has enough bears to hunt that it doesn't need to open these small areas to hunting, too.

In closing, I am strongly opposed to Proposals 137 and 129, which are being considered by the Board of Game. I ask the board not to accede to the wishes of a few lazy, greedy, unprincipled individuals who would make a mockery of the term "hunting," if these proposals were accepted. I believe the board would be as guilty as these individuals if it allowed the killing of the human-tolerant bears in these now closed areas. I would hope each member of the board would have the common sense, decency and self-respect not to allow this proposed travesty to occur. The true shame lies with the originators of these proposals.

Richard Hahn has lived in Alaska since 1997. Before that, he visited the state extensively, beginning in the 1980s. He lives in Soldotna.


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