Bear Baiting Initiative Receives Preliminary Nod

APPROVAL: Effort to ban hunting technique makes its way to ballot

Doug O'Hara / Anchorage Daily News / March 9, 2004

An initiative to outlaw bear baiting in Alaska was given preliminary approval for the fall general election by Lt. Gov. Loren Leman on Monday. Both sides in the emotional hunting controversy say they are bracing for national attention and energetic campaigns.

The lieutenant governor's office announced that it had certified enough signatures to put the issue on the Nov. 2 ballot, said administrator Robert Pearson. "As of today, they had gotten 23,297 signatures, and still counting."

Unless the state Legislature proposes and then passes a similar measure this spring, Alaska voters will decide whether using food to attract bears for hunting, photography or viewing should be prohibited by state law.
In Alaska and eight other states, hunters in certain areas can set out barrels stuffed with fish, pastries, grease and other smelly goodies to draw black bears into the open. Opponents attack the practice as dangerous, inhumane and unsportsmanlike.

"Now that it is on the ballot, voters will have an opportunity to decide for themselves if they want Alaska to continue to be among the handful of states that still allows this distasteful practice," said initiative committee member Lowell Thomas Jr.

"This is too much of an intrusion into the workings of wildlife," added Maury Mason, with the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, one of the groups behind the initiative. "It disrupts the ecosystem, and it turns wild bears into garbage bears."

But proponents say using bait makes sense and does little harm while allowing a hunter to take a clean shot on a legal animal.

"I advocate the practice and say it's more ethical than using glass and stalk" in thick brush, said Jennifer Yuhas, executive director of the Alaska Outdoor Council. Besides, "I'm not too excited about managing by ballot box biology. They should leave that to the professionals."

A coalition of hunting groups formed an organization called Alaskans for Professional Wildlife Management to fight the measure, said spokesman Jerod Broadfoot. "In their view, it goes way too far as far as taking away the management tools of the professionals," he said. "It's too extreme."

A group called Citizens United Against Bear Baiting will campaign in favor of the ballot proposition, Mason said. "The next thing now is just raise some money, get ready with the publicity, organize volunteers and get the vote out."

Daily News reporter Doug O'Harra can be reached at do'

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