Bear Baiting
Responsible hunters know it's time to end this un-sporting practice

Anchorage Daily News / Opinion / June 27, 2003


It's easy to understand why some Alaska hunters will fight the petition drive to ban bear baiting. They may fear that the dark hand of animal rights activism is at work, trying to interfere with hunting any way possible, with the eventual goal of abolishing all hunting.

Other hunters, however, realize that abolishing bear baiting actually would help maintain public support for ethical, responsible hunting. That's why the leaders of the petition drive are prominent Alaska hunters. They know that setting out doughnuts and bacon grease for bears and then killing them from close range is an ugly practice that inflames anti-hunting sentiment. If responsible hunters don't help stop this abuse of fair chase principles, the non-hunting majority in Alaska and the rest of the country are more likely to get fed up and endorse even stronger restrictions.

Some hunters defend bear baiting as an efficient way to control a predator that competes with them for game animals. If efficiency is what drives bear-baiting, that's a sad commentary on the prowess and motivation of Alaska hunters. Alaskans ought to be able to bag their quarry without using garbage as a drawing card.

Besides being unethical, bear baiting may well create dangers of its own. Sows and cubs and brown bears can raid bait stations with impunity, since it's illegal to take them by baiting. Once they are habituated to easy chow from human sources, they may decide to visit other human hangouts in hopes of continuing their cushy feeding practices.

No doubt, people who want bear baiting to continue will decry the initiative as a deplorable exercise in "ballot box biology." But the legality of bear baiting is not a question of biology; it's a question of values. Biologists cannot tell us whether it is ethical to set out food precisely for the purpose of luring a wild animal and then killing it. Bear baiting is a political question to be resolved in our political system.

The legality of bear baiting is the kind of question the people in a democracy are supposed to decide, either through their elected representatives or a direct vote. We hope Alaskans who recognize the essential unfairness of bear baiting get enough signatures to put the proposed ban on the ballot, and we hope voters will approve it.

BOTTOM LINE: Abolishing bear baiting would help maintain public support for ethical, responsible hunting.

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