Bear Control Bill Sails Through Senate

PERMITS: Measure would allow nonresidents greater opportunities to hunt bruins

The Associated Press / Anchorage Daily News / April 30, 2004

FAIRBANKS -- The state Senate has passed a bill that would allow bear control permits to be issued in areas where the Game Board has determined that bears are causing declines in game animals.

Senate Bill 297, introduced by Sen. Ralph Seekins, R-Fairbanks, would have the state issue permits to hunt bears 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 the bill, permit holders would be allowed to take a nonresident hunting for brown bears, as long as the permit holder is 21 and has hunted big game for at least two years.

Current state law allows a nonresident to hunt brown bears only if the hunter is accompanied by a registered guide or a close relative or spouse who is an Alaska resident. Nonresidents are not required to have a guide to hunt black bears.

Seekins' bill also would allow permit holders to kill a bear without a tag fee. They would instead pay a $250 sealing fee.

Another section of Seekins' bill -- which applies to all bear hunting, not just in bear-control areas -- lets the Department of Fish and Game accept any legally taken bear hides or skulls as donations and sell them, with the proceeds split evenly with the donor. People also could donate skulls or hides to charities, which could then be sold.

Seekins argued that making it easier to kill bears is a better alternative than bear relocation programs like the one undertaken last year near McGrath.

There was no floor debate on the bill on the Senate. It passed 13-6, mostly along party lines.

Paul Joslin, the director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance, said Seekins' bill is part of an "all-out war on bears."

"Because bears eat moose and caribou does not make them vermin. They have successfully coexisted with these species for tens of thousands of years and have done so in a manner that has enabled there to be over a million moose and caribou alive today in Alaska," Joslin said in a statement.

It also said that there have been no biological emergencies that scientists have identified anywhere in Alaska to warrant the use of bear control.

The Senate also passed a bill to re-institute the Big Game Commercial Services Board, a state panel that the Legislature allowed to dissolve in 1995. The board was in charge of regulating the activities of the state's roughly 550 registered and master guides and 230 transporters.

State auditors recommended re-creating the board after they found last year that oversight of guiding had lessened since the board was dissolved.

According to the auditors, ethical standards have been slackened, operating standards have become less detailed, there is less of an emphasis on hunter safety, and the state has less ability to discipline guides.

The bill requires that new guide licensees have recent big-game hunting experience; makes lying to clients or breaching contracts ethics violations; mandates that all agreements to provide big game guiding or transporting services be backed by a written contract; bars license renewals for people convicted of various infractions; and doubles the maximum disciplinary fine.

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