Seekins Wants Bear Hunt Rules Eased

SB 297: Sponsor says new regulations preferable to relocating problem bruins

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / February 8, 2004

FAIRBANKS -- The same state senator who last year spearheaded the bill that brought aerial wolf hunting back to Alaska now is taking aim at bears. Sen. Ralph Seekins' bill, which was introduced Friday, would make it easier to hunt black and brown bears deemed a threat to big game populations.

Seekins, R-Fairbanks, said the bill would provide a better alternative than relocating bears in strictly designated areas where the Board of Game has determined that bears are preying upon too many moose.

"Relocation gives temporary relief to that particular area, but the folks who have the bear dropped in their backyard aren't particularly happy about that," Seekins said. "You may be creating a problem someplace else while you're relieving the problem over here."

Senate Bill 297 would institute relaxed regulations in areas where the state Board of Game has established an intensive management program and identified bear predation as a cause of declining numbers or productivity of game such as moose and caribou.

Among its many provisions, which apply equally to black and grizzly bears, the bill would allow people to hunt either species the same day they have been airborne; to take bear sows accompanied by cubs that are at least a year old; to take any bears that are at least a year old; to use any motorized vehicle to assist in hunting bears; to kill a bear within a half-mile of a garbage dump; to use walkie-talkies and/or an "electronic predator call device" to help hunt bears; and to bait bears without having to register.

Seekins' bill also would allow nonresidents, who now can only hunt grizzly bear with an official guide or with a relative who is Alaskan, to hunt them in the designated areas if they are accompanied by an adult Alaska resident. It also would allow guides to hunt in the designated areas.

Bear seasons in such areas would remain open all year.

"This would only be in areas where there is a documentable problem," Seekins said Saturday. "We are trying to put more hunters in the field without having to bring the expense out of line. ... All of these things are not meant to override the Board of Game."

Seekins said what his bill would do is change state statute to give the game board more tools to manage bears in specific areas.

Matt Robus of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said the department just received the bill and hasn't taken a position on the issue.

Joel Bennett, a former Alaska Board of Game member and a former representative of Defenders of Wildlife, argued that the proposal flies in the face of established bear-hunting practices.

He argued that the same-day-airborne bear hunting rule would allow hunters to "harass, herd and chase" bears, and that both the baiting of brown bears and nonresident hunting without guides are illegal statewide because of safety issues.

He also called the lowering of age limits on bears completely objectionable.

"It sort of goes right to the heart of what make hunting or shooting something supportable or tolerable," he said. "There are just certain lines that aren't crossed, and this is one of them."

Alaska Defenders of Wildlife representative Karen Deatherage argued that predator control should be left in the hands of the Board of Game.

"They reproduce very, very, slowly, so if you knock their populations down, you're going to see years before they rebound," she said.

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