I was pleased with the Daily News' Feb. 12 lead story revealing growing opposition to planned brown bear hunting in areas contiguous to the incredible McNeil River State Game Sanctuary. Closely watching and photographing bears awes people from around the world. Over time these bears have become habituated to humans, yet the Board of Game plans to open extensive surrounding areas to hunting despite a marked decrease in bears.
Board chair Ron Somerville advocates opening ambient areas to killing bears, citing Alaska's constitution that mandates game management for the "maximum benefit of Alaskans." He means "for maximum benefit of hunters." Licensed hunters, trappers and anglers comprise only 18 percent of Alaska's population older than 16.
If a vote were held regarding this issue, an overwhelming majority of Alaskans probably would oppose opening areas adjoining the McNeil Sanctuary.
Contrary to the assertion of some hunters, McNeil bears will not alter their unwary behavior when they wander outside of protected areas. Many McNeil bears learned as cubs not to fear humans.
The board regards bears and some other wildlife as commodities to exploit. Most Alaskans are nonconsumptive users, but they are essentially disenfranchised from the regulatory process by the exclusive hunter/trapper board. The best way to protect these bears is enacting House Bill 127, which would close lands adjacent to the sanctuary and Katmai National Park to bear hunting.
---- Edgar Bailey / Homer