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Anchorage bears: Love ’em or Lieb ’em

  • Author: Rick Sinnott
    | Opinion
  • Updated: January 16
  • Published January 16

When I was the Anchorage-area wildlife biologist, I used to joke that the best way to solve a problem was to follow it into the woods and shoot it in the head. When Jim Lieb says that about bears, he's not joking.

A black bear sow carries a snack that she found while foraging through garbage cans, as she and her four cubs head back into the woods along Government Hill in Anchorage on Sunday, April 12, 2015. (ADN archive)

In his repeated calls for a bear hunt in Anchorage (August 2016, Jan. 15 and several letters in between), Lieb uses scare tactics unbecoming a professional wildlife biologist.

Lieb denies advocating for an "intensive" bear hunt "within the city of Anchorage proper," with all the problems that would entail, but he wrote it again right there in his first paragraph: "Anchorage Bowl." Methinks he is confused.

Lieb — who entertained the idea of making Chugach State Park a "bear-free zone" in his 2016 commentary — is now proposing to kill 70-75 percent of the bears in Anchorage and Chugach State Park (which is also in the municipality). He suggests using bait piles. The Alaska Board of Game has never approved using bait stations for hunting in the Anchorage area because, guess what, bait attracts bears and we don't need more Anchorage bears learning where the real bait pile is – our neighborhoods.

Lieb says there are "few if any" resident urban bears. And yet he wants to conduct an intensive hunt in an area the size of a small state to "educate" those bears. This sounds like a solution in search of a problem.

I don't just "claim" — Lieb's word — that public surveys support the notion that most Anchorage residents appreciate having bears in and near the city. They do. Here's the latest survey. Lieb says "if this is true, then of course my suggestion here is moot." So his suggestion is moot, but he keeps trying to justify it.

Lieb says he wants to protect people living in Anchorage, but he really wants to kill most of the bears on the edge of the city, in Chugach State Park. Uh, that's where people go to see bears.

The most willfully ignorant and fear-mongering statement in Lieb's commentary is this: "But many bears, if not educated through hunting, will respond aggressively to close encounters with humans." Really? How does that logic explain why no one has ever been injured in 50 years at McNeil River sanctuary, where people sit within a few feet of brown bears for hours at a time all summer long? How does it explain why almost all the bear maulings in Alaska occur in areas open to bear hunting? Contrary to what Lieb implies, no one has ever been mauled by a bear in an urban area in Alaska.

Conducting a perennial bear hunt to kill most of Anchorage's bears must sound like a solution to someone who thinks bears are out to get us and we've tried everything else to keep them out of the city. But they aren't and we haven't. We are not going to shoot our way out of this fix.

With Fish and Game, the Alaska Board of Game, and Anchorage residents opposed to the idea of killing most of the bears in and around Anchorage, Lieb advances a political solution: a resolution from the Anchorage Assembly or a ballot initiative to intensively hunt Anchorage bears. So, because his idea for a bear hunt is opposed by bear experts, wildlife managers and citizen advisory boards, we should resort to politics to solve the problem?

I stand by everything I wrote in my previous commentary (Dec. 25). We are already overhunting bears in the Anchorage area. Hunting bears in the Anchorage Bowl is a bad idea, much more dangerous and over-reactive than the alternative — simply keeping bears out of our trash.

Rick Sinnott is a former Alaska Department of Fish and Game wildlife biologist. Email, rickjsinnott@gmail.com.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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