Hunters Can't Defend Grizzly-Kill Plans

COMPASS: Points of view from the community

Karl Braendel / Anchorage Daily News / March 13, 2004

The Game Board just finished entertaining the usual smorgasbord of extreme ideas and a few rational ones. The proposals that got my attention relate to the artificial baiting of grizzlies, trapping black bears, chasing grizzlies down with snowmachines and the killing of sows and cubs. I'm left wondering -- what the heck are these people thinking?

One big reason moose numbers (especially large mature bulls) have dropped in Unit 13 is that up until about six to eight years ago a large portion of the unit was in a very restrictive drawing only zone. You had to draw a permit to kill any bull larger than a spike fork. Over time there got to be a lot of big, mature bulls. When new antler restriction laws were implemented around five years ago (going to 50-inch spread or 3 brow tines) the drawing hunt was dropped. In that first year, "herds" of hunters mounted on everything from four wheelers to swamp buggies knocked down the majority of big bulls that had accumulated during the restrictive years.
A lot of these hunters think there is some way through predator control that they can bring these big bulls back so every year can be like that first one. It's not going to happen. With zero numbers of wolves and grizzlies it's not going to happen. When you have hundreds of miles of off-road trails with thousands of hunters on off-road vehicles slicing through moose country, the land can't grow enough moose to meet the demand. It's not even close.

A few years ago the Board of Game liberalized many grizzly seasons which invited the slaughter of grizzlies in several Southcentral and Interior game management units. In most of Unit 13 there is no closed season and in other areas seasons begin Aug. 10 and run into or through the month of June. For a slow-reproducing species like the grizzly in areas with hundreds of miles of off-road trails and unlimited spring access by ski-equipped aircraft and snowmachines, this is unconscionable. In August, June and July hides are worthless, so we are encouraged to treat grizzlies like giant rats to be exterminated. What sort of selfish, mean spirit resides within us that one could shoot a grizzly with a worthless half-shed hide and then just ride off to brag or confess? What man or woman would shoot a grizzly mother and thus condemn her cubs to starvation? Would you run one down with your snowmachine, like they are doing to wolves in some areas, and then tell a big, strong story? I find myself disgusted by my own kind.

All the famous bear-guide woodsmen of yesteryear -- who fought for a fair status for grizzlies and brown bears -- Bill Pinnell, Park Munsey, Hal Waugh, Karl Lane, Clark Engle and many others like them -- must be rolling and tumbling in their graves.

It's ironic that, in Denali National Park, studies have shown that in an unhunted population of grizzlies, you end up with a stable population leaning toward low densities dominated by large, mature males whose pressure on sows and cubs ensures that few cubs survive to adulthood. Liberal grizzly hunting -- up to a point -- actually encourages reproductive success because there are fewer large cub-killing boars in the population. If you kill enough grizzlies, however, you will extirpate them from an area, which is not something hunters can defend or justify.

As a Kodiak bear guide for the past 35 years, I know killing, but I also know bears to be really cool animals with attitude, and a great and varied intelligence displayed through a sense of humor and love for play, and enough anger at times to shake a man's knees. Grizzlies, along with wolves, are what makes our wild country wild. Without them we might just as well be herding cows on the back 40. And without "fair chase," hunters first lose their humility and then they strip themselves of their humanity. Citizens, don't let them do it.

Karl Braendel is a lifelong Alaskan who grew up on his family's homestead in Eagle River and has been a big-game guide for 35 years. He lives in Chickaloon.

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