Wolf Song of Alaska News

Katmai Bear Hunt and Story Surrounded by Controversy
Megan Baldino / KTUU-TV / October 8, 2007

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A legal hunt for Katmai bears continues this week and so does the controversy surrounding it, including whether or not the hunt is fair and if the presence of a Channel 2 News crew on day one of the hunt was fair.

Alaska State Wildlife Troopers said today they are still reviewing a complaint filed against Channel 2 News and other members of a group that observed the first day of a bear hunt in Katmai National Preserve last Monday.

The hunters claim media presence interfered with their hunt and today others agreed with that assessment.

Channel 2 News continues to maintain it did nothing wrong. 

In the news and across the Web, video of a Katmai brown bear fishing for salmon and being shot by hunters minutes later is generating a new debate over what has been a legal hunt in Katmai National Preserve for decades.

The debate has grown to include some state fish and game biologists who manage the area.

Earlier this week, Department of Fish and Game Biologist Grant Hilderbrand talked about the hunting policy.

"We feel it's been a very successful management strategy that's been employed over many decades at this point," Hilderbrand said.

But Sean Farley, a Department of Fish and Game biologist for the Alaska Peninsula region, told the Anchorage Daily News Saturday: "I feel personally remiss as the regional biologist that I haven't thought it out that this is what's going on out there," Farley said.

Phone calls to Farley and Hilderbrand were not been immediately returned. Neither were calls to wildlife troopers.

According to Trooper Spokeswoman Megan Peters, wildlife troopers are still looking into a complaint filed by the hunters claiming that Channel 2 News, along with opponents of the hunt, interfered in the state-sanctioned event.

Channel 2 News maintains the press did nothing to interfere. Ken and Chris Day, bear-viewing guides who also were present on the day the hunt was viewed by journalists, are also maintaining their innocence.

The Days claim the bear hunt in Katmai is decimating the area's bear population.

"We did absolutely nothing wrong. It's our right to be in the park. It's public property and we are the public and we have the right to film there. Those people were on public ground. So, as far as I can see, none of the TV crew or we did nothing wrong whatsoever," Ken Day said.

Rod Arno, director of the Alaska Outdoor Council, an organization that supports hunters' rights, said despite the hunt being successful, the presence of news crews and opponents of the hunt changed the experience.

"As far as the technicality of it -- did they interfere or did their presence interfere with the guy being able to take the animal -- no. Did it ruin the experience for them? Does the Alaska guide industry need to be under that scrutiny, where you don't have the time to have a client in the field and he's looking at everything that's out there? So it's a real biased, narrow view of what happens in a bear hunt," Arno said.

Arno is not new to the debate. He guided hunts in the preserve for seven years and defended the sportsmanship and "fair chase" aspects of the Katmai hunt at a March 2007 Board of Game meeting.

"The idea that these bears are habituated to the point they're gonna run up and sit in front of you and nurse their young, it just does not happen at that site," Arno said at the meeting.

Regardless, the debate has intensified and now includes scientists, animal advocates and even hunters are all considering the question: should Katmai bears be considered "fair game" when they are just 25 miles away from the McNeil River Sanctuary.

Alaska State Wildlife Troopers have not returned numerous calls for comment on this report or on reports of complaints being filed against Channel 2 News.

Troopers have not identified who filed the complaint and under what pretenses it was filed. Nor have they cited what allegations were made in the complaint.

The hunt comes up before the Board of Game in the spring of 2009. If changes are imposed, that's likely when they would take place. Around five proposals to change the management strategy were presented at the last meeting in March.

Contact Megan Baldino at mbaldino@ktuu.com

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