Group opposing bear snaring brings fight to Game Board

Dan Joling | Associated PressAssociated Press

An Alaska conservation group announced Wednesday that it has lined up opposition to a proposed expansion of black bear and grizzly snaring to increase the number of moose available to hunters.

The Alaska Center for the Environment said it had collected 3,300 signatures of people opposed to snaring bears in a little more than two weeks. The names include bear hunting guides and other Alaskans outside the ACE's usual constituency, said Valerie Connor, conservation director for the group.

"I've never seen this kind of response from people," Connor said.

The signatures will be presented to the Alaska Board of Game when it considers the snaring proposals at meetings that begin Friday in Fairbanks.

The seven-member citizen Game Board is appointed by the governor and sets bag limits and seasons for game animals. The board has taken an aggressive stand to expand human consumption of moose and caribou by killing predators, first wolves and more recently bears.

Along with increased bag limits and longer hunting seasons for bears, the board several years ago authorized an experimental use of snares for black bears -- and an incidental take of grizzlies -- in Game Management Unit 16B across Cook Inlet from Anchorage. Last year, the board extended snare use to grizzly bears in a portion of the same area near Tyonek and Beluga.

Last summer, 319 black bears were killed in the larger area, including 56 that were snared. Three grizzlies also died in snares. In the smaller area, 117 grizzlies were killed, including 24 that were snared and others shot over bait.

Snaring works by putting a steel cable on a spring in a bait bucket. A bear reaches in for the bait, and when it pulls out, the cable tightens around its paw.

The harder it pulls, the tighter the cable clamps down, often resulting in injury, said wildlife biologist Vic Van Ballenberg. The bear remains there until the trapper returns to shoot it.

Snaring captures whatever bear appears at a bait bucket -- black bear boars, sows, cubs, sows with cubs, or grizzlies, said Van Ballenberg, a former Game Board member. He said such indiscriminate killing is not compatible with scientific principles of modern wildlife management.

At the Fairbanks meeting, the board will consider a Department of Fish and Game proposal for bear snaring in six game units. Two are east and southwest of McGrath. One covers Yukon River communities Stevens Village, Beaver, Fort Yukon, and Chalkytsik. Two more extend east of Delta Junction south to Tok and the Canada border.

Dale Rabe, the deputy director of the state Division of Wildlife Conservation, said state biologists are officially neutral on expansion of bear snaring but were asked to list areas where it could be effective because other methods of lowering bear populations have been ineffective or impractical.

He acknowledged that the snaring experiment in Unit 16B is ongoing. Trapping has succeeded in removing bears, he said.

"That's one measure. The ultimate value in the program was to see if the moose reproduction and survival went up in the area where trapping occurred," he said. That measure will be more difficult to determine, he added.

The board in January also opened the door to aerial killing of bears, approving a policy to shoot grizzlies to protect a population of musk oxen. The department has now proposed killing bears from helicopters east of Kalskag.

Rabe said department wants to produce more moose for people who depend on them and snaring was not likely to be effective near Kalskag because of logistics and finding people willing to set them. Experience has shown hunting from the air would be faster and more effective, though expensive and fraught with its own set of objections.

"The board is asking us, 'What can you do to solve the problem?' " he said. "So we're trying to give them answers in terms of tools that they might think about."

Associated Press