Why is it discussions about killing predators
in Alaska so often get sidetracked onto the subject of what's,
Whether talking about the baiting of black bears or killing
wolves, someone will invariably jump in with the observation: "That's
Who said hunting or trapping of any sort was supposed to be fair?
Certainly Alaska's aboriginal people's never believed that. When your life depends
on killing wild animals for food, there is no time to worry about fairness.
Alaska Natives held a deep and abiding respect for the wild animals on which
their survival depended. They understood the foolishness of waste. But as to
being "fair'' to the animals they sought to kill, forget it.
Fairness was an idea brought to the hunt in the late 1800s by a bunch of rich,
old white guys. With the passenger pigeon extinct, the moose gone from New England,
the bison disappearing from the West, and many other species of wild animals
in dire shape, these men -- President Teddy Roosevelt among them -- decided it
was time to change the nature of hunting.
Instead of the hunt being about how much you could kill, as it had been for eons,
they chose to make it about what you could kill.
Thus was born the idea of sport, or trophy hunting. The idea was that a hunter
proved his or her prowess not by slaughtering 50 caribou or 20 moose but by shooting
the biggest and best of each.
When these early conservationists contrived to make the age-old and utilitarian
practice of hunting into sport, they had to write rules. Nobody needed rules
when hunting was truly about subsistence. Then you killed what you needed to
fill your belly. If that meant you wiped out all the animals in one valley, well,
you moved to the next valley. And if it meant one hunter got to kill a whole
bunch more than another hunter, well, that's how one separated the good hunters
from the bad hunters.
This just couldn't be, however, if hunting was to become a sport.
It wouldn't really be fair, would it, if a guy sneaking around in the brush with
a bow and arrow trying to kill a record-book moose had to compete with a guy
flying around in a helicopter gunship using night-vision goggles and an automatic
The rules for sport hunting subsequently sought to define the ways in which one
could fairly hunt.
This was called "fair chase,'' but it had little to do with being fair to the
animals. It was mainly about the hunters being fair to each other in their pursuit
of sport. It was about forcing hunters to work equally hard for the bragging
rights of having brought home the biggest deer, elk, moose, bear, what have you.
All of that, of course, happened around the turn-of-the-century after decades
of subsistence hunting had Ladies Home Journal magazine predicting that in the
future "there will be no wild animals except in menageries.''
The subsequent development of sport hunting saved untold species. Populations
of some big-game animals in the Lower 48 today -- where the only hunting is sport
hunting -- are larger than they were when the Pilgrims first landed on the continent's
And it's not just those whitetail deer that are overrunning habitats everywhere.
New England -- where moose went extinct at the turn of the century -- is now
home to about 40,000 of the animals.
Minnesota -- where moose were once an oddity -- has 6,000 of the big deer. In
fact, moose are now doing well just about everywhere there is moose habitat.
Wolves, meanwhile, are thriving in Minnesota and recolonizing old habitats in
a half-dozen other states.
About the only big-game animal not doing well Outside is the grizzly bear, and
that is, in large part. because so many irrationally fearful hikers and backpackers
have opposed reintroductions.
If anyone wants to talk about fairness, that ought to be their issue. It is only
fair to help grizzlies recolonize old habitats across the Cascade, Bitterroot
and even the Sierra Nevada Mountains. All of which brings us back to Alaska,
where wildlife is nowhere near as bountiful as Outside, where fewer and fewer
hunt for sport, and where the idea of fairness has been dragged a baffling distance
from its origins and sensibilities.
Suddenly, people are arguing about what's fair to individual wild animals --
as if that somehow mattered.
Does someone out there truly believe a bear cares whether it gets shot at a bait
station or splashing in a salmon stream or frolicking in a berry patch, or that
a wolf cares that death comes in the form of a single bullet from a quiet marksman
hidden 300 yards away or a hail of bullets from an airplane or the noose of a
The means of death are irrelevant to these animals. They want only to survive,
but they can't.
Sooner or later, they're destined to die, as are we, because the cycle of life
is built on death. It's inherently unfair and random. One calf gets picked to
become a breeding bull and spend its life in pampered enjoyment. Another gets
earmarked to be fattened up for shipment to the slaughterhouse.
That's the way it has been since the days of the dinosaurs. The animals with
fangs and claws and tools kill and consume the plant eaters.
That some humans want to change this is commendable. If you can happily live
your life as a vegetarian and cleanse your hands as much as possible of the killing
of other animals, more power to you.
Some of us can't. We've got too much wolf in our veins. Personally, I like the
taste of meat. It is an inherited trait, like the color of my eyes and hair and
skin and, yes, the desire to hunt.
I do the latter by the rules of fair chase, but I don't begin to think it's fair.
I am a predator. The animals I kill are prey. Nature never intended for it to
And I'm tired of hearing that it somehow should be. Particularly in this state,
particularly at this time, particularly when we've largely abandoned the ethic
of "sport hunting" and chastised the very idea of
trophy hunting in favor of the Holy Grail we call subsistence -- the old idea
that in hunting what is paramount is killing what you need to eat.
If we really want to go back there, and it seems many in Alaska do, we really
don't need rules for fairness of any sort.
In this era of subsistence, we shouldn't be talking about banning bear baiting;
we should be talking about banning hunting seasons and bag limits. Those never
existed in subsistence systems. They are the baggage left behind by those old
white guys who created sport hunting.
Maybe it is time to try something new.
Maybe the solution to bear and wolf problems in places like McGrath isn't to
relocate bears and kill wolves but to free the residents of those areas from
the shackles of modern hunting regulations. Let's turn them lose to hunt like
hungry Alaskans did in the past. The only reason they have trouble killing moose
now is because the state makes them do it when the moose are hard to hunt in
Let them hunt as in the old days, with snow on the ground and the moose easy
to track down and kill. I guarantee they will have no trouble killing moose in
these circumstances. They might need to go on a 100-mile snowmobile trip to do
it, but they'll get their moose.
And when they run out of moose to kill and eat, they won't have much choice but
to start killing bears for food as was a norm here a few decades back.
This will do more to reduce the bear population than the piddling amount of bear
killing done by hunters over bait in this state.
The wolves will take care of themselves. Once the locals shoot moose populations
down to one moose every five or 10 or 20 square miles, the wolves will have no
choice but to starve to death or kill each other.
Daily News Outdoor editor Craig Medred can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org