Game Board to Take up Bear Issues

MEETING: Many of nearly 300 proposals are aimed at
killing bruins to boost moose, caribou

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / February 27, 2004

FAIRBANKS -- The Alaska Board of Game has begun a two-week meeting in which it will consider nearly 300 proposals, many of them aimed at killing bears to boost moose and caribou herds.

The board, appointed by the governor, sets hunting, trapping and other wildlife management policy for Alaska. Its meeting, which began Thursday, comes as Alaska is embroiled in a national controversy over its aerial wolf-control programs in the McGrath area and in the Nelchina Basin northeast of Anchorage.

Some of the bear proposals the game board will consider include making it legal to put out bait to attract grizzly bears to hunters, trapping black bears, selling bear parts and allowing hunters to shoot cubs with sows in some areas.

"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.

Game board member Pete Buist said the bear proposals are 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.

Studies in recent years have shown that bears 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 by lengthening seasons, dropping tag fees and increasing bag limits, but those changes haven't produced more bear hunters.

"The average guy doesn't want to go out and shoot a grizzly bear every year," said Buist. "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?"

The wildlife-interest group Friends of Animals from Darien, Conn., is calling for 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 could fuel that argument.

"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 does not appear to 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 today and the deadline to sign up to testify is noon on Saturday.

Public testimony will continue until everyone who has signed up has gotten a chance to speak. Written comments will be accepted on specific proposals up until the proposal is deliberated. Written comments may be faxed to 1-907-452-0576.
According to Fish and Game, there are 272 proposals to the board, submitted by individuals, groups, local fish and game advisory committees, and the department.


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