Young Rears Up at Idea of no Bait
BEARS: Critics say luring the animals with garbage is unsafe and unsportsmanlike
WASHINGTON -- A bill to ban bear baiting on federal land had Alaska Rep. Don Young growling at a hearing Thursday.
"I wish I had my Native people in here right now," he told Rep. Jim Moran, the northern Virginia Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. "You'd walk out of here with no head on."
The bill, subject of a hearing before the House Resources Committee on Thursday, would prohibit hunters on federal land from setting out food to lure bears. Alaska is one of nine states that allow bear baiting.
Baiting supporters say the method is the only way hunters can keep the bear population under control.
Young also said it should be left up to the state.
"You have no right, nor do your people have any right, to tell Alaskans how they're going to manage their game," Young roared at Moran.
"You don't know anything about Alaska. You're trying to tell my people -- you're sitting down here in Washington, D.C. -- how they're going to manage their game."
Proponents of the ban, some from the Humane Society of the United States, wore "Don't feed the bears" lapel badges Thursday.
They say bear baiting is unsportsmanlike.
"Shooting a bear in the back while its head is stuffed in a garbage can to feed does not constitute a fair chase," Moran said.
Critics say baiters use thousands of pounds of everything from rotting meat to doughnuts to attract bears.
"In a normal season we will go through 10 tons of pastries and about 8 tons of meat," one Canadian guiding outfit advertised on the Internet.
A guide in Maine said on his Web site that he puts out "between 40,000 to 50,000 pounds" of bait a season. He also said he begins baiting his stations a month before hunting season, which he said is legal there.
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who defended baiting in his state, sounded indignant at the suggestion that some people use Twinkies as bait.
"I'm not aware of anybody in Minnesota using Twinkies," he said. "We're not that kind of people."
Bait stations attract all kinds of bears. Some -- sows with cubs and grizzlies, for example -- aren't legal to kill. Critics of baiting say bears that feed at stations but survive learn to like human food, then become dangerous because they turn to cabins and campgrounds for more.
Matt Robus, wildlife conservation director for Alaska Fish and Game, said that argument comes up every time the state Game Board reconsiders the issue.
"We don't have any information that that allegation is true," he said. "A properly conducted baiting operation does not necessarily lead that bear to associate humans with food."
Rather, he said, the bear learns to associate that particular spot in the woods with food.
In Alaska, bait stations must be at least one-quarter mile from a road or trail and at least a mile from cabins or campgrounds. A Fish and Game Department pamphlet recommends dog food mixed with grease, baked goods and fish carcasses.
"Check the bait at least every other day until a bear begins eating it. Then bring 5-10 pounds of fresh bait along with you on every trip so that you can rebait the station immediately," the pamphlet says. "Keep putting out a small amount daily until you are ready to hunt over the bait."
Once hunting is over, the hunter must remove all of the bait, even contaminated soil, the regulations say.
"A lot of them don't," said Jim Holmes, a Fish and Game technician who taught the department's baiting classes for four years. He said he sees a contradiction between urging residents to take down their bird feeders and bear-proof their trash cans but then allowing hunters to "set up miniature garbage dumps in the woods."
He said one department biologist has puzzled over what to do about a particular group of out-of-state hunters.
"They show up with a horse trailer filled with 3,000-4,000 pounds of compressed old doughnuts," Holmes said.
George Pollard, a retired hunting guide from Soldotna, is part of a citizens group that hopes to begin petitioning for a state ban on bear baiting. Pollard, 77, said baiting is not in keeping with the spirit of fair chase.
"That's what hunting is all about," he said. "When you make something too easy, it loses its value."
More than 2,000 black bears are harvested a year in Alaska. Only 100 to 300 are taken over bait, mostly in the Fairbanks area, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna area. Robus said it's an important means of bear control in those areas.
Young, whose office walls are crowded with game trophies, said he has hunted both brown and black bears.
"We harvest quite a few black bears in Alaska, because most of my Native people do eat bear," he said.
He said he once watched a brown bear as it fished from a river.
"And when he lay down to go to sleep, I shot him. And there's a reason for that, because I didn't want him to know where I was," Young said.
Some people may see that as unsportsmanlike, he acknowledged. Young, though, wasn't asking for advice, and he certainly didn't want any from a congressman from northern Virginia.
"How many bear do you have in Alexandria?" he demanded.
Reporter Liz Ruskin can be reached at 1-202-383-0007 or email@example.com
Wolf Song of Alaska, P.O. Box 671670, Chugiak, Alaska 99567-1670