Fairbanks Biologist Takes on Baiting Ban

The Associated Press / Juneau Empire / August 18, 2003


ANCHORAGE - A Fairbanks hunter has filed a complaint in Superior Court to halt an initiative drive by proponents of a bear-baiting ban.

Retired state wildlife biologist Wayne Heimer said he resents the idea of managing the state's fish and game by voter initiative.

Proponents of the ban say they've collected half the signatures needed to put their initiative on a statewide ballot next year.

Heimer said he's never hunted black bears, much less engaged in bear baiting - the practice of setting out dog food, bacon grease or other edibles to bring bears into hunters' cross hairs.

But Heimer calls it unconstitutional and said Lt. Gov. Loren Leman erred when he approved the bear-baiting initiative effort June 19. Heimer's complaint asks the court to halt the initiative drive or keep it off the ballot.

"My goal is to drive a stake through the heart of the process," Heimer told the Anchorage Daily News.

Black bears are plentiful in most regions of the state. Alaska Department of Fish and Game statistics show about 2,500 black bears are killed every year. Just under 20 percent are taken at bait stations. It's illegal to shoot a brown bear or grizzly over bait.

Baiting is particularly common in densely forested areas where sighting bears is difficult. It requires a bait station permit from Fish and Game.

Many hunters staunchly defend the practice. Some liken it to using salmon eggs to attract fish or setting out decoys to draw waterfowl. The tactic is particularly popular among bow hunters, who say it gives them a clean and accurate shot.

Baiting has been allowed in most of Alaska except during a few years in the early 1980s, when feeding many wild animals was made illegal. Since the practice resumed, the Alaska Board of Game has repeatedly turned down proposals to ban it.

Now a group calling itself Coalition United Against Bear Baiting wants to put the question to voters. It needs the signatures of 23,385 registered voters, but that doesn't look like a hurdle, said coalition member Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. More than 12,000 signatures have been gathered since the petitions became available in early July.

"I'd be extremely surprised if we weren't able to get the necessary signatures," Joslin said. "There's very little opposition out there, in part because there's very little good you can say about bear baiting."

The petition is finding wide support, he said. Some hunters, including initiative sponsors Lowell Thomas Jr., George Pollard and John Erickson, want to ban baiting because it's not fair chase, Joslin said.

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