Seekins Revises Bear-Control Bill


Tom Moran / Juneau Bureau / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / April 9, 2004


JUNEAU--Sen. Ralph Seekins has made significant changes to his proposal to make it easier for hunters to take bears in predator-control areas, softening but retaining provisions that allow Alaska hunters to use airplanes on bear hunts, to bait bears and to take nonresidents on bear-hunting trips.

"We're just trying to come up with the final version that will best accomplish what we're after, to put more hunters in the field and give them a little better advantage to be able to reduce the bears," Seekins, R-Fairbanks, said.

Released in March, Seekins' original bear control bill proposed heavily relaxed hunting regulations in areas where the Board of Game has established an intensive management program and identified bear predation as a cause of declining numbers or productivity of game, such as moose and caribou.

Under Seekins' original proposal, in such areas hunters could:

* Kill bears the same day the hunters have been airborne.

* Bait bears without having to register.

* Kill sows accompanied by yearling cubs.

* Take any bear at least a year old.

* Use motorized vehicles, hand radios and "electronic predator call devices" while hunting bears.

* Kill bears within a half mile of a garbage dump.

* And take nonresidents on bear hunts, even if the nonresident isn't a relative or spouse.

All the provisions of the bill applied to both black and grizzly bears and bear seasons in those areas would be year-round.

Seekins' bill brought negative public comment in the Senate Resources Committee, both from wildlife advocates and from hunting guides who worried that making it easier for nonresidents to hunt bears without a guide would hurt their business.

Seekins also said he's gotten feedback from a number of individuals and outdoors groups such as the Alaska Outdoor Council. He also made changes in response to the actions of the Board of Game, which recently adopted many bear-control options similar to his proposals.

"You've got to get a bill introduced, get some public testimony, (then) you flesh out all the rest of the stuff," he said.

The most overarching change in Seekins' new version of the bill, which he offered to the committee on April 2, is a new requirement that anyone who wishes to hunt bears under an intensive management program needs to obtain a bear-control permit from the state.

With one exception, all of the proposals under Seekins' bill apply to areas of intensive bear management and to both black and brown bears, and would be applied at the discretion of the game board. Among the other changes, his new version would:

* State that hunters can only use airplanes to "locate or assist in locating" bears, not to pursue, herd or harass them. Seekins argues the language is stricter than that of the previous version, which simply allowed same-day airborne hunts.

* Still allow Alaska residents to take a nonresident hunting for bears, but would require that the Alaskan be at least 21 and have legally hunted big game in the state for at least two years.

* Allow people to bait bears, but only through the use of viscera, inedible game parts or the remains of dead domestic livestock. Seekins argues the main purpose of the clause is to allow people to drag an existing carcass to another spot, rather than set up a bait station, which still requires registration.

* Allow for the use of motorized vehicles to "pursue and intercept" bears, but only after the bear has been alerted to the person's presence.

* No longer allow for electronic predator call devices, but permit the use of walkie-talkies and equipment like night scopes.

* Allow people to hunt bears without having to pay a bear tag fee, instead requiring a $50 charge to have the bear sealed.

* Drop provisions allowing for the taking of bears near garbage dumps and the taking of sows with yearling cubs. It also deletes the provision all bear hunts year-round in bear-control areas. It retains the provision that all bears older than 1 year old can be hunted in intensive management areas.

A new section of Seekins' bill--which applies to all bear hunting, not just in bear-control areas--allows people to donate any legally taken bear hides or skulls to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to be sold, with the proceeds split evenly with the donor. People could also donate skulls or hides to charities, which could then be sold.

Members of the Resources Committee seemed skeptical about parts of the new bill at its first hearing. Sen. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, said he is worried that the bill would allow people to use vehicles equipped with searchlights and walkie-talkies to corner bears, a scenario he said would not be looked upon kindly by wildlife activists. And Ogan also had concerns about Seekins' proposals regarding donating hides and skulls.

"This is a major policy shift outside of the norm," he said.

Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau, worried that loosening guide requirements could lead to a "slippery slope" of making it easier for untrained people to lead bear hunts.

The committee held the bill.

Reporter Tom Moran can be reached at tmoran@newsminer.com or (907) 463-4893.



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