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Bill to ban bear baiting provokes angry exchange

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) An Alaska congressman went on an angry tirade Thursday against a colleague for introducing a bill that would ban bear baiting on federal lands.

''I wish I had my Native people in here right now,'' Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, told the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., at a hearing. ''You'd walk out of here with no head on.''

Young's comments came at the end of a testy exchange over the bill, which would extend the bear baiting ban on federal lands to the nine states that allow it, including Alaska, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The other 41 states already ban bear baiting, which involves leaving anything from doughnuts to pizza out to attract bears while hunters lie in wait.

At one point, Young engaged in a bit of Moran-baiting, asking the congressman how many bears were in his home district in Alexandria, Va., which is just outside the nation's capital.

''Mr. Young, we both know we represent very different constituents,'' Moran answered.

''You're trying to legislate what's right for my people,'' said Young. ''You have no right, nor do your people have any right. ... You know you're wrong. You don't know anything about Alaska. ... You're messing with my people, and that's the wrong thing to do.''

Moran stressed that the bill applies only to federal lands.

''My constituents do, through their taxes, provide means to purchase and maintain that federal land,'' he said.

Earlier, Moran said that bear baiting was unsportsmanlike.

''Shooting a bear in the back while it's head is stuffed in a garbage (pile) to feed does not constitute a fair sport,'' Moran told the House Resources subcommittee on fisheries conservation, wildlife and oceans.

But Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., testified that the bear population would be difficult to control in his state without baiting, which is the primary means of bear hunting in states that allow it.

''It will take away our management tool,'' he said.

The subcommittee chairman, Maryland Republican Wayne Gilchrest, asked Peterson about reports that some bear baiters use Twinkies as bait.

''I'm not aware of anybody using Twinkies in Minnesota. We're not that kind of people,'' Peterson said to laughter.

Peterson said that without baiting, nuisance problems with bears getting into neighborhoods and rummaging through people's garbage would increase.

But Moran argued that baiting contributes to those very problems, by acclimating bears to human food and making them more likely to approach people and homes.

The bill's other sponsor, Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., said federal policy needed to be more consistent. He noted that while the National Park Service bans feeding of bears, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management defer to state authorities on the matter.

''If it is wrong and reckless to feed bears in parks, it is also wrong to do so in national forests and on BLM lands,'' he said.

But Matt Hogan, deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the Bush administration opposes the bill.

''Without a wide array of management tools at their disposal, state managers may experience an increase in dangerous interactions between people and bears,'' he said.

Besides Alaska, Wisconsin and Minnesota, states that allow bear baiting are: Maine, New Hampshire, Michigan, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho.

Fred Frommer can be reached at ffrommer(at)ap.org



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