Wolf Song of Alaska News

Shoot Down Brown Bear Proposals

Hunting in Pack Creek will disrupt the entire nature of tourist destination

My Turn / Opinion / Juneau Empire / October 17, 2006

By Andy Romanoff

The Alaska Board of Game will soon be considering two proposals regarding brown bear hunting in Admiralty Island's Seymour Canal. Currently, 94 percent of Admiralty is open to the hunting of brown bear. The percentage, equivalent to roughly 940,000 acres, dwarves the measly 60,000 acres where brown bear can go about their daily business without threat from hunters. The Pack Creek Brown Bear Sanctuary has been an internationally recognized and protected brown-bear viewing area since 1934. The surrounding lands of Swan Cove and Windfall Harbor were added to this protected region in the 1980s due to increased awareness of their importance for Pack Creek bears.

Protection of these small areas has created an important component of Juneau's economic picture. Fueled by wildlife watchers from around the globe, roughly 1,500 permitted travelers visit Pack Creek and surrounding areas each summer, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to Juneau's summer economy.

As a tourism business owner and guide at Pack Creek for nearly 10 years, I personally took hundreds of travelers there myself. For those of you who have not yet had the great fortune to visit this remarkable place, Pack Creek is one of Alaska's wildlife gems, on par with Denali National Park and the McNeil River. My most memorable day featured nearly 30 bears, including nursing sows, wrestling cubs, angry boars and dozens of shredded salmon.

Hunting advocates, noting the legitimate fact that Pack Creek usually harbors sows, cubs and juveniles, claim to be after the "trophy boars." One fascinating tidbit that I gleaned from my days at Pack Creek is the challenge one faces in determining a male brown bear from a female. If cubs are not present, it can be nearly impossible to all but the most expert eye, unless one is lucky enough to see the bear in question urinate. Yet, in a real world hunting situation, the likelihood that a hunter will see the target urinate is tremendously unlikely. If the bear in the sights happens to be a large female without cubs, that female is likely to die. It is estimated that from one-quarter to one-third of the bears killed on Admiralty Island are female.

The argument has been presented that the killing of trophy boars and male bears in general may reduce pressure on sows and cubs that frequent Pack Creek. On the surface, this argument seems to harbor some truth. Boars commonly kill cubs, possibly as a means to allow for further mating. Dig a bit beneath the argument's surface, and it quickly falls apart. Brown bears have killed cubs for countless generations and most likely, their populations and mating behaviors have evolved accordingly. It is highly likely that the space opened up from the killing of one boar will be quickly filled by another.

This claim is used by hunting advocates to legitimize the notion that Pack Creek bears will not be adversely affected by the opening of hunting in this small area of Admiralty's Seymour Canal. The numbers and physical realities speak a different truth. Sows will be killed, Pack Creek "regulars" will be killed, the entire nature of this tourism destination will be negatively affected.

Further, not only will the killing of Pack Creek bears be unavoidable, hunting these highly habituated bears stands in ethical violation of hunting standards assumed by most Alaskans. Most of the brown bear of this area of Seymour Canal are very comfortable around humans. These are not the bears that will turn and run when approached by a hunter. Instilling a "fear of man" in these bears could dramatically alter the viewing possibilities offered by Pack Creek.

At 6 p.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall, the Board of Game will accept public testimony on the proposals allowing brown-bear hunting in the 6 percent of Admiralty Island currently closed to such activity. I urge the public to attend and to take a stand for one of the last-remaining great creatures of this continent. Nine hundred and forty thousand acres is more than enough to satisfy the hunger of Alaska's bear hunters.

* Andy Romanoff is the former owner of Wilderness Swift Charters and a commercial Pack Creek permit holder from 1996 to 2000. He is a Juneau resident.

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