Propositions Take Aim at Bears


Tim Mowry / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / February 26, 2004


If Lynn Levengood had his way, hunters would be able to bait grizzly bears, sell bear parts and shoot grown bear cubs that are still with a sow.

Those are just a few of the proposals that Levengood, a Fairbanks attorney and avid hunter, has submitted to the Alaska Board of Game.

"The previous boards have been unwilling to take necessary management changes," said Levengood, explaining the purpose behind the 24 proposals he submitted to the game board.

"None of the actions the (Alaska Department of Fish and Game) has taken to reduce predation has had any effect," he said. "We have to allow consumptive users to reduce predators to help the prey populations."

With Alaska already embroiled in a national controversy over its wolf control exploits, the state game board begins a two-week marathon meeting in Fairbanks today that could stir up another hornets' nest. The board will consider nearly 300 proposals to change, create or eliminate hunting and trapping regulations in the Interior and many of them are aimed at killing bears to boost moose and caribou herds.

"Every year there's some spin on predator control that comes up, but the interest seems to be higher this year, particularly with bears," said David James, regional supervisor for the Division of Wildlife Conservation at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks.

Some of the bear proposals the game board will consider include legalizing the baiting of grizzly bears, trapping black bears, selling bear parts and allowing hunters to shoot cubs with sows in some places, practices that are considered extreme even in some hard-core hunting camps.

"We have some grave concerns where the board will take some of these proposals," said Karen Deatherage, the Alaska representative for Defenders of Wildlife, a national organization that opposes predator control.

Part of Deatherage's worry stems from the board's track record over the past year. The game board recently approved aerial wolf hunts near McGrath and in the Nelchina Basin as part of a state-sponsored predator control plan. In the past month, private pilots have killed more than 60 wolves.

Deatherage is worried the board will now turn its aim on bears by approving radical hunting practices as baiting of brown bears and shooting of cubs.

"They clearly want to increase the harvest of brown bears," she said.

Game board member Pete Buist said the bear proposals are merely a sign of the times.

"I think people are coming to grips with the fact some of the predation problems we're having are because of bears, not wolves," said Buist, one of two Fairbanks representatives on the seven-member game board.

Studies in recent years have shown that bears--both black and grizzly-- kill as many, if not more, moose and caribou calves than wolves. At the recommendation of state wildlife managers, the game board has already relaxed bear hunting regulations around much of the state by lengthening seasons, dropping tag fees and increasing bag limits, but those changes haven't produced more bear hunters.

"Just extending seasons and increasing bag limits hasn't worked," said Buist. "The average guy doesn't want to go out and shoot a grizzly bear every year. It's expensive to get it tanned and you're just going to hang it on the wall. How many grizzly hides do you need to hang on the wall?"

While the animal-rights group Friends of Animals from Darien, Conn. has already organized a national tourism boycott against Alaska to protest the state's aerial wolf hunts, allowing such things as the baiting of grizzly bears or commercial sale of bear hides would no doubt raise hackles.

"As controversial as wolf management is, when you get into bears, especially grizzly bears, it gets even more so," said Matt Robus, director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation.

The thought of stirring up more controversy doesn't concern Buist.

"I think there's little we can do to raise a bigger stink then there already is," he said, referring to the tourism boycott. "We should be worried less about how much environmentalists are going to be upset and look at the biology and do what's right."

The meeting at the Wedgewood Resort begins daily at 8:30 a.m. and is open to the public. Public testimony on proposals will begin on Friday and the deadline to sign up to testify is noon on Saturday.

"We're expecting two full days of public testimony," said Justin Crawford with Fish and Game.

News-Miner outdoors editor Tim Mowry can be reached via e-mail at tmowry@newsminer.com or at 459-7587

 


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