Bear baiting ban plan marks bad approach to game management

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2003

Fairbanks biologist and hunter Wayne Heimer is ready to go to court to stop so-called wildlife advocates' latest attempt to impose their ways and beliefs upon us all.

Under a guise of championing fair chase something nonhunters are least of all qualified to judge proponents of a bear-baiting ban are circulating a petition that would place an initiative on a statewide ballot to end this legitimate and effective means of hunting black bear.

Backers of this initiative have tried time and again to push bear-baiting bans through the state's established and democratic Board of Game regulation process. They have consistently lost. However, in recent years the board has approved reasonable and effective limits on black bear baiting in reaction to public concerns: Hunters are required to register their stations; they are required to undergo training; the amount of time bear baits may be used has been curtailed; limits on where baits can be placed have been instituted. The list goes on. Black bear baiting regulations fill page 24 of this year's Alaska hunting regulations book.

The Game Board process has been working effectively and board members have wisely steered clear of an all-out ban on the practice which, understandably, some people find distasteful.

Bear baiters usually attempt to lure black bears to their sites with a smelly concoction and then keep them coming back with regular offerings of grease, stale doughnuts, dog food or larger quantities of some other more substantial offering. Then it's a matter of being present to make the kill when the bear also happens to be present.

Anyone who has attempted baiting will tell you it sounds much easier than it is in practice. It by no means guarantees success. For bow hunters, it is without question the best way to ensure a clean shot and the highest possible odds of quickly dispatching an animal. It also allows the hunter time to observe the bear, determine its gender and make sure it is not a sow temporarily separated from cubs. Naturally, the same advantages are afforded hunters with other weapons.

To be sure, however, baiting animals is a debated practice even among some hunters. When it comes to killing animals, there is much to be discussed in general. Human ethics and social norms constantly evolve. Most reasonable people recognize that bans, especially those instituted by popular ballot that may fall to a decision made by a majority of nonhunters, are not a reasonable way to address game management issues. This is especially true when in Alaska, unlike in other states, we already have a public process for discussion and institution of game management rules.

Proponents of the bear-baiting ban say they have collected about half the signatures needed to put the question on next year's ballot. Heimer has taken the matter to the courts, claiming Lt. Gov. Loren Leman erred when he approved the bear-baiting initiative effort in the first place. Whether the courts ultimately agree or not, Heimer has our support.

The other way to thwart the effort is to spread the word about the danger of managing game by popular vote. We can shoot down this initiative process by educating those who would sign the petition, or at the least we can educate the public to vote down the ballot initiative if and when it makes it to the polling booth.

The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Aug. 16

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