Most bear maulings are by grizzlies in defensive situations. Compared to hunted bears, unhunted ones are far less defensive during encounters. Moreover, the more experience bears have with viewers, the less defensive and thus the less dangerous they become -- especially when natural food supply is good, when bears don't get food from people, and when people are polite but not timid.
Hunting McNeil bears will degrade viewing opportunities there and at nearby Douglas River (inside the area to be opened to hunting). McNeil Falls provides unique opportunities not available anywhere else worldwide.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game states that it manages wildlife populations, not individual animals, which is appropriate for providing a sustainable supply of animals to kill. But management for viewing sometimes requires protection of individuals. It can take years of experience with benign people for bears to learn how to peacefully coexist with us.
For example, the past 30-plus years have seen dramatic declines in both defensive and offensive threats toward viewers at Katmai. As recently as 1998, I experienced dozens of threats per day. Yet, in recent years, there have been almost none. Careful management of viewing by state and federal personnel and by viewing guides has achieved this acclimation.
If Alaska is going to manage bears for the maximum public benefit, then letting a handful of hunters ruin viewing opportunities for thousands of people is a poor trade-off, both recreationally and economically.
---- Stephen F. Stringham, Ph.D.
Director, Bear Viewing Association and
Bear Communication and Coexistence