Bear-Control Measure Amended

Tom Moran / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner / April 15, 2004

JUNEAU--Bear control would be under state Board of Game auspices under a new proposal by Sen. Ralph Seekins.

During a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Resources Committee, Seekins said that he plans to drop language in his bear-control bill that automatically allows the use of methods like baiting and airborne tracking to hunt bears in predator-control areas, replacing it with an allowance that the Board of Game can institute such measures at its discretion.

Seekins said he agreed to the changes after conversations with the state administration and with members of the board, who put together a statewide bear-control policy last month encompassing many ideas that parallel those of the Fairbanks Republican.

"They've said, 'OK, we have this system, we're moving towards establishing the goals that you want, let us have a chance at doing this,'" Seekins said. "I said OK, I'll give it a chance."

Seekins' bill in its present form would allow for relaxed hunting regulations for brown and black bears in areas where the board has established an intensive management program and identified bear predation as a cause of declining numbers or productivity of game, such a s moose and caribou. Seekins argues such methods would be more effective than proposals to relocate bears, such as the one undertaken near McGrath last year.

Under his current proposal, people issued "bear control permits" in such areas could--among other measures--use airplanes to track bears, bait bears through the use of viscera, inedible game parts or the remains of dead domestic livestock, use walkie-talkies or equipment like night scopes to take bears and use motorized vehicles to "pursue and intercept" a bear, but only after the bear has been alerted to the person's presence.

But Matt Robus, director of the Department of Fish and Game's Division of Wildlife Conservation, said Wednesday that one key problem brought up with Seekins' bill was that once the Board of Game had identified a bear-control area, all of the measures would automatically be in place.

He said it's better to give the board more flexibility to apply such measures through its own regulations, especially in a hotly debated area like predator control.

"Bear predation management is going to be very controversial, and the board recognizes that, and I think to have all of those things available any time you identify a need for bear predation management is just going to raise the controversy level sky-high," Robus said. "This is kind of a way to tailor it so it's appropriate and most defendable."

With that in mind, Seekins said he plans to drop those four areas of his bill and instead insert language letting the Board of Game institute extreme measures in bear-control areas, a system similar to that already used for wolf control. Seekins said he expects the board would draw up measures similar to those in his bill, noting that such methods are already included in the statewide bear-control program drawn up by the board in Fairbanks last month.

"They have most of these things in their policy in smaller dot points, not fleshed-out like this," he said.

Robus said the bill is now basically happening backwards, with the board drawing up its own regulations and Seekins now working on a law encompassing its proposals.

"The board saw the need, the board figured out a way to do it," Robus said. "This statute is going to provide kind of an umbrella of statutory authority to allow those programs to be undertaken."

Seekins said he plans to leave the other parts of his bill intact. The bill allows people with bear control permits to: Take a nonresident hunting for bears even if that person isn't a spouse or relative, as long as the permitholder is 21 and has hunted big game for at least two years; use of walkie-talkies and equipment like night scopes in hunting bear; and to take bear without a tag fee, instead paying a $50 sealing fee.

Another section of Seekins' bill--which applies to all bear hunting, not just in bear control areas--lets people donate any legally taken bear hides or skulls to the 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.

Seekins' bill has come under heavy fire from wildlife advocates and from hunting guides, with the latter arguing that lessening guide requirements will hurt their business. But there was no open dissent on the bill on Wednesday, with no public testimony taken and with neither of the Democrats on the committee who oppose the measure present.

Reporter Tom Moran can be reached at or (907)463-4893.

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