Game Board to Mull Killing Bears

Associated Press / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 10, 2004


The Alaska Board of Game will consider expanding its predator-control program to include brown bears and more wolves at its upcoming meeting in Fairbanks.

If the seven-member panel includes bears, grizzlies could be killed in areas where the human harvest of moose or caribou is considered too low.

At the meeting, which runs Feb. 26-March 10, the board also will consider, among other proposals, permitting hunters to kill black and brown bear sows and cubs, and eliminating a buffer zone that protects two well-known wolf packs from traps and snares near Denali National Park.

Matt Robus, director of Wildlife Conservation for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, expects an explosive meeting.

"When it comes to predator control and hunting and trapping issues, people tend to be at one end of the spectrum or the other," Robus told the Anchorage Daily News. "We're going to have our full share of people at both ends."

Predator control _ killing predators to help their prey thrive so people can more easily kill them _ has resumed since Gov. Frank Murkowski took office last year and replaced six of the seven game board members.

The board has since approved an aerial wolf-kill program near McGrath and another using aircraft land-and-shoot hunting in the Nelchina basin northeast of Anchorage. The program has prompted demonstrations nationwide by animal rights advocates and a call for a tourism boycott of Alaska.

At its meeting, the game board plans to reconsider a wolf-control plan for 16B, a game management area northwest of Anchorage. Last fall, the board postponed action on that area after Fish and Game officials said they lacked the information to support predator control.

Also up for approval are aerial wolf kills in subunits 20D and 20E, which stretch from Delta Junction to the Canada border, and in unit 12, which runs from the Wrangell Mountains north to 20E, around Eagle.

Opponents expect more such proposals in the future, said Karen Deatherage of Defenders of Wildlife.

"This was one of our major concerns about having the ban on aerial and same-day wolf killing lifted, that it would become a routine management tool for the department," she said.

The group has asked the U.S. Interior Department to review whether the state's programs are legal under the federal Airborne Hunting Act.

The act allows for aerial predator-kill programs under certain circumstances, but not to improve sport hunting, Deatherage said.

Using predator control methods on bears will be a bigger hurdle for the board to leap, Fairbanks board member Pete Buist said. Brown and black bears can eat many moose and caribou calves, but reproduce more slowly than wolves.

The board will consider a new fish and game policy that outlines how brown bear predator control would be accomplished in the future.

Unlike a bill introduced last week by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, the new state "conservation and management policy" does not authorize land-and-shoot for grizzli es, but instead calls for traditional hunting methods to be used "wherever possible."

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