Bear baiting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2010

With bear baiting season just around the corner, I would like to take this opportunity to review the rules and regulations for baiting bears on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Bear baiting is permitted in the northern half of the refuge, specifically in that area west of the refuge boundary on Swanson River road, north of Swan Lake Road to the Paddle Lake Canoe system, south of the section line between Township 8 and 9 north and east of the refuge boundary next to Cook Inlet.

A special use permit is required for bear baiting. This permit is free but non-transferable and requires a 2010 Alaska Hunting License and an Alaska bear baiting clinic number. This number is issued to hunters who have successfully completed a bear baiting clinic sometime during their hunting career. If you have not completed a baiting clinic, there will be one April 30 during the Sport Show at the Soldotna Sports Center. See the Sport Show schedule for correct times; the class is also available on-line through the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.

Generally, federal regulations mirror state regulations for most hunting regulations. However, bear baiting is one case where the refuge takes extra precautions to ensure that a quality experience can be had by all. First and foremost is the fact that when a hunter comes in for a permit, the hunter chooses and is given a square mile that is theirs exclusively to bait. That is, no one can bait in this hunter's area without their consent. The only people allowed to be on the hunter's bait are those individuals they designate by providing a current hunting license number on their permit at the time of issuance. Having said that, this does not give the baiter exclusive hunting rights to that square mile; it is still open to general hunting following Alaska state hunting regulations. Baiters may place no more than two bait stations in that square mile.

I would also recommend that baiters contact their neighboring baiters to ensure that sites are not too close to one another. Only biodegradable material may used for bait. Alaska state law defines legal bear bait as the heads, bones, guts, skin, or other parts of legally taken game not required to be salvaged. Scent lures are allowed. In Game Management Units 7 and 15 fish or fish parts may not be used for bear bait.

All bait stations must be clearly marked with a warning sign on which the hunting license numbers of the permittee and the individuals authorized to hunt over that bait station hunting, as well as the state and federal permit numbers, are visible. The signs should be within 25 feet of the bait station and between 6 to 10 feet off the ground. Some hunters chose to put extra signs at the start of their trail in addition to their required signs.

All bear bait stations are prohibited within 1 mile of a residence, including your own home. Additional regulations prohibit bear bait stations within one-quarter mile of roads or trails and 1 mile of campgrounds and dwellings. The refuge will provide a map with those boundaries marked for each person receiving a bear bait permit.

The refuge prohibits the use of nails, wire, screws or bolts or the building of permanent bait stations and tree stands as well as cutting of green trees for shooting lanes. Additionally, all bait, litter, to include contaminated soil, and equipment must be removed at the close of baiting season which is June 30, 2010. Finally, the refuge requires all baiters to submit a harvest report by July 15th, whether they set up a bait station or not.

Many people wonder why the state of Alaska and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge allow bear baiting at all. Baiting allows a hunter to observe the bear prior to harvesting, which should reduce the likelihood of sows with cubs as well as juvenile bears from being harvested. Youth hunters are given the opportunity to observe bears and learn subtle identification differences between sows and boars. Baiting allows for clean kill shots in an area relatively free of branches and trees. Finally, not all baiters are hunters; I can think of numerous people who set up bait stations for the sole purpose of filming or observing bears.

Some common violations that we see on a yearly basis are failing to submit harvest reports on time, building permanent structures, cutting green trees for a shooting lane, and failure to remove all baiting equipment at the end of the season.

I would also remind baiters that if you are hunting over a bait station and a brown bear comes onto your bait, there is no "defense of life and property" justification for shooting the bear if it does not leave the bait to suit your private timetable that day. Be prepared to spend the night if you have to, or take some other deterrent with you such as pepper spray.

Baiting can provide a good hunting experience when done right; however as with most hunting activities, it only takes the actions of a few to ruin it for everybody. Please report all violations and help us by recording license plates numbers or descriptions of those you see violating the law. For further information please contact the Refuge at 262-7021 or Alaska Wildlife Troopers at 262-4573.

One final note: The refuge is asking baiters to help us collect brown bear hairs at their station, if their station should be visited by a brown bear. We will use the DNA fingerprint in these hairs to estimate the brown bear population. Individuals willing to volunteer should contact Todd Eskelin or Toby Burke at the refuge, at 262-7021.

Rob Barto is a law enforcement officer at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

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Previous Refuge Notebook articles can be viewed on the refuge website, You can check on local birds or report your bird sighting on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Birding Hotline at 907-262-2300.

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