increasingly aggressive control methods targeting bears and wolves in Alaska.
In some parts of the state, wolf pups can be gassed in their dens, bear cubs
and sows can be hunted, and wolves shot from helicopters.
deferred until March the decision on whether to permit baiting and snaring of
black bears and grizzlies in additional areas, a practice utilized for the last
four years as part of a pilot project in central Alaska.
But it removed
the historical blanket prohibition against aerial hunting of bears and
specifically authorized state game agents to begin helicopter and fixed-wing
hunting of bears along the Dalton Highway corridor in the high Arctic, where a
precarious population of musk oxen has been threatened by
"That potentially does open up that [aerial] method for other
places as well — to take bears with aerial shooting and land-and-shoot," David
James, Region 3 supervisor for the state Department of Fish and Game's Division
of Wildlife Conservation, said in an interview. "It would no longer be illegal
to do that anywhere else in the state."
The stepped-up measures are
designed to appease long-standing concerns among a broad swath of Alaskans
about declining populations of moose and caribou, upon which much of rural
Alaska depends for food.
The National Park Service is arguing forcefully
— and so far unsuccessfully — that techniques such as snaring, baiting,
trapping and using artificial lights to hunt down bears in their dens should
not be used on bears and wolves in the 19 million acres of federal wildlife
refuges in Alaska.
"In this larger war on bears and wolves, the Board of
Game has created a number of hunting methods which we find objectionable," said
Jim Stratton, Alaska director for the National Parks Conservation Assn. "It's
all being done to manipulate the population of predators, to reduce them so you
can grow more moose and caribou, and that is in direct conflict with how the
park service is supposed to manage their land. They have a management policy
which specifically says you don't manipulate the population of one species to
benefit the hunting of another."
Opponents have also raised humanitarian
concerns, arguing that methods such as snaring often leave bears to writhe in
distress for long periods before they are finally shot.
disagree with the snaring of the bear," said Terry Holliday, president of the
state chapter of Safari Club International, one of Alaska's premier hunting
organizations — though he said he supported reducing predators to boost game
"If they want a lower bear population, they can do it in
different ways," he said. "It's not humane. You shoot something, you kill it.
If it's properly done, it's bang, and it's over, with the animal not suffering.
But when you go out and you start snaring animals and whoever's doing it, say,
the weather's bad and you can't get back for several days, here's a bear
sitting there in a snare with a bucket on its foot."
Critics of the new
measures, including Democratic former Gov. Tony Knowles, say they're in
conflict with the wildlife management advice of most scientists. Over-hunting
by humans, including that by trophy hunters from outside Alaska, is responsible
for much of the decline in moose and caribou, they contend.
But in some
ways, the Department of Fish and Game has its hands tied. The Alaska Legislature in 1994 passed an unusual law
directing state officials to adopt an "intensive management" policy across
crucial parts of the state. The policy was aimed at maximizing the production
of human food species — if necessary, at the expense of bears, wolves and other
The last three administrations, all Republican, have
enthusiastically implemented the directive. The Board of Game, appointed by the
governor and dominated by hunting advocates, has steadily increased the menu of
options available to target predators. Many were strongly pushed by the state's
recent wildlife conservation director, Corey Rossi, a friend of former Gov. Sarah Palin's family.
Rossi resigned last
week after facing criminal charges alleging that he filed false state reports
in connection with a black bear hunt in 2008.
State game officials have
argued for even stronger tactics against predators because they say traditional
bear hunts — which often target large males — fail to eliminate the females and
cubs that they say must be eradicated if there are to be meaningful declines in
Opponents of the policies say indiscriminate
methods such as snaring can quickly push bear populations — abundant now — into
steep decline, especially since grizzlies are so slow to reproduce.
a state once known for its scientific approach to wildlife management, we have
entered a time tunnel back to the times of the Wild West," said Valerie Connor,
conservation director for the Alaska Center for the Environment.
state's 4-year-old pilot project permits baiting and snaring of bears in an
area about 40 miles across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. A year ago, that was
expanded to include snaring of grizzly bears.
Bruce Dale, Region 4
wildlife conservation supervisor, said the technique was used in Quebec,
Canada; Maine; and other locations in which researchers want to examine or
collar bears. A total of 24 grizzlies were killed at the snares near Anchorage
last year; 93 were killed by hunters without snares. The black bear snare total
was 56, with 263 otherwise shot.
"Some people would just like to have
this as a legal method to take bears," Dale said of the proposal to expand
legal snaring and aerial gunning across about 10,000 square miles of the
Kuskokwim River watershed.
State wildlife agents may have to do some of
the removals themselves if hunters aren't lured by the expanding
"We're still trying to determine whether these new legal
methods to reduce bear populations [are] going to be effective enough to
increase moose calf survival," Dale said. "Because there's really limited
interest in hunting bears among residents today."