I suppose it's a reflection of our time and culture, this flyer that's arrived in the mail. "Protect Alaska," it proclaims. "Protect Your Rights." I'm immediately suspicious. And sure enough, the lies quickly follow. The mailing asks Alaskans to vote "No" on Ballot Measure 3 because "Alaska's heritage is once again under attack." I'm informed that "out-of-state animal rights and environmental extremists who have previously tried to ban the Iditarod" now want to end "the subsistence hunting, photography and viewing of bears."
Hmmmm. I think something smells rotten here.
I support Ballot Measure 3, which seeks to ban the practice of bear baiting. And from everything I can find out about Citizens United Against Bear Baiting (CUBB), it's a diverse group of Alaskans who passionately believe that bear baiting is an outdated, unethical practice that needs to be ended. They are hunters and guides, biologists and wildlife watchers, Natives and non-Natives, urban and rural Alaskans. I would guess that CUBB presents a significantly broader cross section of Alaskans than its opponents, the misleadingly titled "Alaskans for Professional Wildlife Management" (APWM) who sent the postcard filled with lies - and who, it should be mentioned, are supported by outside special interests, including the extremist NRA. In fact, their deceitful campaign has been organized by an outside consultant.
Yow, talk about hypocrisy!
Not surprisingly, many of the Alaskans for Professional Wildlife Management are the same people working to expand predator-control programs so they can turn Alaska into a giant moose-and-caribou wild-game farm. Some members may truly practice subsistence lifestyles, but most are urban "sportsmen" and women. They are sport hunters defending an unsportsmanlike practice that is allowed in only nine of our nation's 50 states.
As disgusted as I am by the recent mailing and other false advertising by the No-on-3 group, I am even more bothered by bear-baiting itself. I've opposed this practice since I did a story on the problems it causes, way back in the eighties. And I do so for both for ethical and public-safety reasons.
Bear baiting is completely at odds with the best current scientific thinking about bear-human relations, state wildlife-management priorities, and organized campaigns throughout Alaska to keep human food and garbage away from bears. From Anchorage's urban core to the deepest wilderness, Alaskans are asked - and in many places, required - to act in ways that keep food away from bears. Baiting does just the opposite.
The argument that people have been hunting bears over bait for years and years just doesn't wash. Standards change, as do notions of what is fair-chase hunting. Once upon a time, people trapped and poisoned bears, they killed bears without limit, killed sows with cubs (and even killed cubs), killed bears from planes, and chased them with hounds. Today, nearly all of these practices are prohibited (though, amazingly, hunters can still use dogs to hunt black bears if they qualify for a special permit).
Hunting restrictions of various sorts are scattered throughout the Alaska Hunting Regulations booklet for all manner of species. What's especially curious to me is why standards are lower for black bears than grizzlies and other big-game species. As a friend (and biologist) comments, it's as if black bears are still considered vermin. They don't have the charisma of grizzlies. And they don't bring the state big bucks, like brown bears do, from guided hunts. Grizzlies can't be hunted over bait, though surely they are drawn into bait stations, nor can they be hunted with dogs, or near landfills/garbage dumps. For black bears, almost anything goes. But it's not simply a grizzly-vs.-black bear thing; no other big-game animal in Alaska can be hunted over bait. It's time to change that unacceptable exception.
Though the effort to ban bear-baiting began in opposition to the hunting practice, it also wisely includes other activities, specifically photography and viewing. For all sorts of reasons, it's time to ban bear-baiting, period. And that's no lie.
Bill Sherwonit / Anchorage