Game Board Panel Wrestles with Bear Control Policy

A special committee met Thursday in Fairbanks to draft recommendations
on ways to control the bear population

Jeffrey Hope / KTUU-TV / Channel 2 / March 5, 2004

From targeting bears from airplanes, to selling bear parts, there's debate this week over expanding predator control. At Thursday's meeting in Fairbanks, the chairman of the Board of Game created a special committee to look into bear management and suggest a policy for the board -- a task that won't be easy.

The committee is trying to find common ground between hunters, environmentalists, and dozens of people who have testified in favor of more predator control so moose populations will rise.

On the last page of the draft, under "predator control," is a list of means and methods the board may consider, including relocation, chemical sterilization, same-day airborne hunting in some areas, sale of hides and skulls as incentive, multi-bear bag limits, snaring, and brown bear baiting.

That list has Paul Joslin of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance concerned. "It gets me very nervous," he told the board members.

The sale of bear parts has been considered taboo by Alaska Natives until recently, when some moose populations have declined.

"There could be a lot more incidental take of bears," Mike Tinker of the Fairbanks Advisory Committee pointed out. "But people are not going to mess with them when they're a financial liability and you've got to bring them home and it costs you $800 to do something with them."

"I have the sense that we're kind of moving ahead here in a direction that may not have that broad-based public support," Joslin said at one point.

"I'm not going to be supporting opening up the entire state to same-day airborne (hunting) and recreate the problems we had in the early '60s," said board member Ron Somerville, a former head of the state's game division.

A decision whether or not to use predator control is supposed to be based on science. The big questions are whose science and how much is needed.

"Can we all agree that the department will decide when there's enough science? That's when you get into trouble because you can always have more science," said Matt Robus of the Division of Wildlife Conservation.

The group will spend two to three days revising drafts. Once the final version goes to the board, members can adopt the policy immediately, put it out for public comment, or put it on hold until the next meeting in November.

In other action Thursday, the board approved the use of helicopters by those who are trapping wolves, but that measure only affects a few people.

Some critics believe that the Board of Game is simply "out to get predators." Not true, at least according to one thing it did Thursday. Board members said no to an increase in the bag limit for wolves in the Interior, saying the current limit is adequate.


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