Bear Baiters Launch Defense



NOVEMBER ELECTION: Hunters accuse sponsors of measure of being bankrolled by Outside interests

Joel Gay / Anchorage Daily News / April 3, 2004



Hunting groups this week opened their campaign to discredit a ballot measure facing Alaskans this fall that would ban bear baiting.

They accused sponsors of the ban of failing to register with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. It's an attempt to conceal the identity of individuals and groups bankrolling the effort, they say, and they suspect Outside animal-welfare groups will be revealed.

Nonsense, say ban supporters, who believe baiting is unethical and unsafe and that allegations of Outside influence are just a tactic to deflect public attention from the real issue. And ironically, they note, the hunters have hired an Oregon group to run their campaign.

With the Nov. 2 general election still seven months away, the bear baiting initiative is meeting expectations that it will be one of the most hotly contested questions on the ballot.

Bear baiting is a popular hunting practice in some parts of the state. Hunters set out pastries, grease or other foodstuffs, then hide and shoot the bear of their choice when it comes looking for an easy meal. Only black bears can be targeted, and baiting accounts for about 20 percent of the 2,500 or so killed most years.

Opponents say it's wrong to attract bears into hunters' sights with doughnuts or dog food, not unlike the now-banned practice of using salt licks to draw deer or elk. It's also unsafe, they believe, giving bears a taste for human food that could lead to dangerous encounters. Several states and Canadian provinces have banned baiting over the years.

But many hunters and game managers defend bear baiting as a valuable hunting method and management tool. It's no different than a fisherman using salmon eggs, and it gives hunters a clear view of the animal they're targeting, they say. In areas of thick brush, bear baiting is used almost exclusively, and bowhunters rely on bait stations to get close enough to their prey.

The Alaska Board of Game has consistently defended the practice, making Alaska one of just nine states where baiting is still allowed. Alaskans for Professional Wildlife Management hopes to keep it that way.

The coalition, which includes the Alaska Outdoor Council, the Safari Club of Alaska, National Rifle Association and other like-minded groups, hired Pac/West Communications to run its campaign. Spokesman Jerod Broadfoot said the Wilsonville, Ore., firm "handily defeated" an attempt to ban trapping in Oregon in 2000. Alaska faces a similar challenge, he said.

"One of our main themes is, 'Don't let out-of-state extremists come in and manage Alaska's game,' " Broadfoot said. "We completely expect the Humane Society of the United States to dump three-quarters of a million" dollars in the upcoming Alaska campaign, he added.

A spokesman for the Humane Society, senior vice president Wayne Pacelle, said his group has not yet donated to the Alaska campaign but probably will.

"We are sensitive to the inside/Outside contribution issues. We also do have a lot of other issues that we need to fund," he said. "But we certainly don't want to see hunting groups based in Ohio and Washington, D.C., pour money into a campaign to preserve the unsporting, inhumane and unnecessary practice of bear baiting, and then claim they're somehow Alaskans. It seems to me they've lost any credibility in this argument by having a campaign based in Oregon. It's total hypocrisy."

Broadfoot defended the Alaska hunters' decision to bring in an Oregon firm. With the expectation of funding from major national organizations like Pacelle's, he said, "50 to 60 (Alaska) groups were then forced to go and look for a firm -- us -- that can defeat this type of initiative."

The ballot measure has national implications, Broadfoot added. "Alaska has really set an example nationwide of how to properly manage game populations," he said. "If out-of-state animal-rights extremists come in and ban bear baiting (here), other states could follow suit."

On Tuesday, he complained to the Alaska Public Offices Commission that ban supporters had been collecting donations since last year but had not registered with the agency, as required by law. Citizens United Against Bear Baiting, or CUBB, should not be raising or spending money until it has registered, Broadfoot said.

"All our records are public records," he said. "People know who we raised money from." But CUBB is hiding, he said. "We have no idea who these people are" or how much they might be gathering.

CUBB spokesman Maury Mason called Broadfoot's charge a red herring. "They'll do whatever they can to divert attention from what it is, which is a public-safety issue," he said.

Mason acknowledged Tuesday that the organization was behind in its paperwork, both state and federal. "We're getting ourselves organized right now. Most of us just finished two weeks of work on the Board of Game," which met through March 10 in Fairbanks.

And there was no need to register until the Division of Elections approved CUBB's initiative, he added. That didn't occur until March 8. Nor has the group had much to declare, Mason said. Only two checks, both from Alaskans and totaling $15,000, had been received, he said.

But contributions from Outside could start flowing soon into the group's treasury, Mason said.

"When the word goes out, people are going to want to help," he said, but added, "We're looking at individuals, not at organizations, for help. There's enough people who feel strongly about this that we're confident we don't need large organizations' funds."

State disclosure laws give wide latitude to groups involved with ballot measures, said Christina Ellingson, the APOC's associate director. Because they don't need to register until their measure is approved for the ballot, she said, it's not uncommon for a group to register late.

"It happens all the time," Ellingson said, "especially when they're starting out."

Once registered, groups fall into one of two camps, she said. Those that solicit funds specifically for a ballot measure must file periodic campaign reports, which list who has donated and how much they gave. The first report is due 30 days before the election.

But groups also can accept generic donations, Ellingson said, which essentially puts contributions into the group's general fund. A group can use its general funds to support or oppose a ballot measure and must only file an expenditure report 10 days after the expense was made.

If APOC finds that CUBB failed to register in time, "we would encourage them to register immediately," Ellingson said. The group could be fined $10 a day.


Daily News reporter Joel Gay can be reached at jgay@adn.com or at 257-4310.



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