Alaskans testify on killing bears with snares

Dan Joling | Associated PressAssociated Press

Former Gov. Tony Knowles stepped before the seven-member Alaska Board of Game on Friday to urge an immediate end to the snaring of bears, including grizzlies, as a management tool to boost moose populations.

The two-term Democrat says luring a bear to a bait bucket, trapping a front paw with a cable and then shooting the animal does not fit the criteria of best wildlife management practices.

"I believe the vast majority of Alaskans will also reject the indiscriminate killing of black and grizzly bears by this unscientific and unethical policy," he said.

Knowles testified Friday as the Game Board kicked off six days of meetings in Anchorage. The board sets seasons, bag limits and methods for harvesting of game and in recent years has ramped up practices designed to provide more hunters with game they can put on the dinner table, such as moose and caribou.

That has meant the killing of hundreds of predators that target moose and caribou calves, starting with wolves and expanding to black bears.

After approving more liberal hunting seasons and bag limits for grizzlies in some areas, the board last year for the first time approved the use of snares for grizzlies in part of a game management unit across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. The board is considering policies that would expand bear snaring and for the first time allow grizzlies to be shot from the air.

Knowles says wildlife policies should be based on the best science and ethical practices. Snaring of either black or grizzly bears is not, he said.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game bear researcher John Schoen presented a statement backed by 78 biologists with Alaska wildlife experience who oppose snaring in part because it's indiscriminate, capturing boars, females with cubs, and sometimes older cubs.

"Snaring and killing of bears regardless of age, species, and gender is incompatible with the scientific principles and the ethics of modern wildlife management including the North American Model for Wildlife Conservation," he said.

Bears are slow to reproduce and expensive to count, he said, and indiscriminate killing risks wiping out a population. As a lifelong hunter, Schoen said, he worries that snaring will have significant collateral damage by alienating the public.

"The bottom line is that scientific integrity and ethics matter," he said.

Board member Ted Spraker, a former colleague of Schoen, asked what Schoen would do to meet the public demand for more moose when grizzlies accounted for a majority of moose calf mortality in an area.

"What do we do to satisfy that public's request for more moose in the freezer?" he asked.

Spraker said he does not like trapping bears but likened it to holding a rope and being unable to decide whether to toss it to a drowning man.

"We're at a crossroads," Spraker said. "Short of shooting bears from the air, which I would be more in favor of, I'll be real honest about that, I would like to identify calving areas, and if they were taking most of the calves in a calving area, I would authorize if I had the power to do it in the department, to shoot those bears in the calving area -- all of them. It's surgical, it's very direct and it's very efficient."

Schoen said the board may not be able to meet the public demand because Alaska's human hunter population keeps growing. One way to address the issue, he said, would be to stop hunting by nonresidents if local need was not satisfied.

Spraker said the board reluctantly allowed nonresident hunters into an area that is difficult to hunt because the moose bull-to-cow ratio was too high and Alaska hunters were not killing enough bulls. Excess bulls, he said, compete with cows for food.

"The only hunters who had a history of being successful in the area were the guided, nonresident hunters because they were willing to pay to get into these difficult areas and reduce the numbers of bulls," Spraker said.

He was referring to an area where bear snaring is allowed and the comment drew a quick response from his former colleague.

"I'm a little confused," Schoen said. "You had an excess of moose, so you increased out-of-state with guided hunting, so why are you trying to kill more bears?"

"We had an excess of bulls," Spaker said. "We didn't have an excess of cows producing calves. Excess of bulls only. We want the cow base to increase."

Associated Press