Wolf Song of Alaska News

Bear Hunts Offer Food for Thought

Craig Medred /Outdoors / Anchorage Daily News / October 21, 2007

Some observations on, and a lot of questions about, the Katmai National Preserve grizzly bear hunt that has sparked so much discussion among both hunters and non-hunters.

* No. 1: Killing is an ugly business. It doesn't matter whether you're shooting bears or moose, chopping the heads off chickens, or stunning cattle in a slaughterhouse. When KTUU-TV news director John Tracy says "if a practice is clean and ethical, why can't it withstand the public scrutiny of Alaskans,'' he is being disingenuous. He knows killing -- any killing -- will offend some people, which is why TV stations seldom run video of chickens being whacked, although arguably they should. As for the rest of it, this issue is more about values than ethics. There is nothing in the hunters' code of conduct that says one must turn down an easy shot. But there are people who would be upset about seeing these bears shot even if the hunters climbed up and over Mount McKinley during the stalk.

* No. 2: Opening day is always a slaughter. It doesn't matter whether you're hunting waterfowl on the Anchorage Coastal Refuge, caribou in the Nelchina Basin or bears at Katmai. Animals aren't that smart. Until the gunfire starts, all except the old tend to act foolishly. But they learn quickly. Visit the site of the bear hunt today, and there's no doubt the bears will be a lot more cautious.

* No. 3: Trophy hunting, as it is called, arose from the desire of early American conservationists to save dwindling wildlife. They encouraged hunters to stop killing every animal they saw (subsistence hunting) in favor of seeking only the biggest and best to prove their prowess as hunters (trophy hunting.) The whole idea of trophy hunting now faces something of a knee-jerk backlash from a new generation of conservationists who apparently think it somehow wasteful because animals aren't killed primarily, or solely, for the meat or for a skin to wear but sometimes for a "trophy mount'' thought to reflect only vanity.

* No. 4: Does anyone care the hunter filmed by KTUU was disabled, and thus guided to an area where he had a chance of finding and taking a bear with a minimal amount of walking?

* No. 5: Trophy hunting has been shown in some areas to actually increase bear numbers and thus, arguably, the opportunities to view bears. This is because true trophy hunting focuses on removing big, old bears that tend to look upon the cubs of other bears as tasty treats to be dismembered and eaten. Cub survival is shockingly low in some grizzly populations with a lot of big, old bears.

* No 6: The killing of the 4- to 5-year-old sow videotaped at Katmai really doesn't qualify as trophy hunting. This is a lot more like shooting the first bear you see.

* No. 7: How exactly does one quantify journalist neutrality? "Channel 2 News made no value judgment on the hunt itself,'' claimed news director John Tracy. Why then did reporter Megan Baldino introduce the video with "a warning to our viewers, the following may be disturbing to some of our viewers.'' If that's not a value judgment, what is?

* No. 8: There are dumb animals just like there are dumb people. Foolish bears ended up dead at Katmai because they didn't have the sense to slink back into the brush. Some hunters and guides ended up in the middle of a media brouhaha because they didn't have the sense to pack things up and go home when a television crew arrived to film their hunt. I feel sorry for the poor, dumb bears. I can only shake my head over the behavior of the poor, dumb hunters.

* No. 9: The camera never lies, except -- of course -- when it does. Watch the bears in the video, and you might think you see one thing. Watch the hunters, and you see something else. At one point, the hunters appear to approach a group of "tame'' bears. But the hunters are surprised to see the animals. Could they have been approaching up the backside of a hill? Likewise, when a friendly bear walks in plain sight behind one of the hunters, the man is visibly startled by its appearance nearby. The man on the ground is obviously immersed in a world different from that seen by the camera above.

* No. 10: If the wilderness becomes like a zoo, is it still wild? If "tame'' bears (or "human habituated'' bears as some like to call them) are a good thing, why should only the rich folk have access to viewing such bears on the Katmai coast? How about we take the tons of salmon waste that goes into the Anchorage landfill every year and use it to create a bear-feeding station on the Anchorage Hillside where the protected bears of Chugach State Park could be encouraged to gather (and eat) to entertain large numbers of the rest of us?

* No. 11: Is it ever safe to make a deal with environmental organizations? To the south of this hunt area is the McNeil River State Wildlife Sanctuary and 3.7 million-acre Katmai National Park closed to hunting. To the north is 2.2 million acres of Lake Clark National Park closed to hunting. Part of the deal made during the lead up to passage of the Alaska National Interest Conservation Lands Act was that small portions of both of these large land withdrawals would be classified as preserves to allow a 10,000-year-old tradition of hunting to continue. Is a deal a deal, or was there some secret, 27-year expiration date?

* No. 12: Is a bias a bias if you don't know you have it? One word here: "crossbow." Tracy cited the use of a "crossbow'' in his defense of KTUU's coverage of this hunt. The Daily News mistakenly used the word "crossbow'' in reporting on the hunt. The weapon used was a compound bow -- a tool far different from a crossbow. When a story is reported by people so far removed from the subject they don't even recognize the most basic tools being used, can they really hope to maintain objectivity? Or, as some in this business seem to believe, is ignorance really the ultimate objectivity?

* No. 13: If Alaskans are going to allow any hunting anywhere, does it matter what is ecologically best? If hunters kill a bear, is it better to take away the hide and leave behind the protein to nourish other bears or wolves or wolverine or foxes or weasels? Or is it better to leave behind the hide, which has almost no nutritional value, and take all the fat and protein out of the system? From a purely scientific standpoint, one could make a strong argument that the trophy hunting disliked, even detested, by so many in the state (myself included; I grew up with the edict that if you kill something you eat it, period) is the ecologically best hunting.

* No. 14: The mortality in Alaska Peninsula bear hunts appears to be compensatory, not additive; so what difference do the deaths of these particular bears make? Better yet, should the people who fail to understand what the previous sentence means even be allowed into the debate, given that it's hard to have a rational discussion in the absence of knowledge?

* No. 15: I'm sure I have an opinion on this hunt; I'm just not sure what it is. I don't hunt grizzly bears. I have no desire to hunt grizzly bears. I think a lot of the proud grizzly bear hunters I've met over the years are vain glory seekers. But I can't see why bears -- outside of those in national parks -- shouldn't be managed like every other species of wildlife. I kill salmon with reckless abandon. How come nobody worries about them? Is it simply because fish have scales instead of fur? How shallow is that?

Find Craig Medred online at adn.com/contact/cmedred or call 257-4588.

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