National headlines wrongly cast Alaska hunters as baby-animal killers

  • Author: Steve Meyer
    | Opinion
  • Updated: May 28, 2018
  • Published May 28, 2018

A trio of young bears cross the Seward Highway near Turnagain Pass in September 2017. Some national headlines suggest you could slaughter them. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

"Trump supports killing baby bears, baiting bears with donuts and bacon." That's more or less the headline across the nation in the ongoing attempts to discredit the president at every opportunity. I don't know when reporting news became political/social activism sound bites, but it's been quite a long time since objective journalism was the norm instead of an oddity.

It is fortunate that reasonable folks are catching on and giving little credence to what passes as news these days. I like to think I fall into that category and for the most part, pay little attention. But when this sort of thing affects Alaska and hunters, it riles me up a bit, and since this column is not news, I'll exercise the literary license of opinion.

I don't approve of the regulations that, in some rare and exceptional circumstances, allow the killing of bear cubs and wolf pups, or some of the other predator control measures that have been authorized. But, and this is the point, the headlines and content of national news stories paint the Alaska hunter with a broad brush, as baby killers. It's been a number of years since these regulations were passed and I have yet to talk with a hunter who wants to kill baby bears or wolf cubs.

But, that's an opinion, and it does not belong in a news headline. A more appropriate headline would have been that President Trump supports aligning federal and state game management strategies, followed by a factual report on what that means to the public and the wildlife it would affect. That would include the specific details of the how and why the cub and pup killing regulations came to be. It is rather complicated and deserves a full review.

A report done with rigorous honesty would reveal that the regulations are limited to a very small segment of Alaska and Alaska hunters. The facts would more than likely reveal that since passing, there have been few, if any, cases of cub or pup killing.

Think about it. If hunters who have been allowed wide-open hunting of bears and wolves for many years and they can't find and kill them enough of them, are they going to be able to find bear or wolf dens? Probably not.

I think it was Sherlock Holmes who said, "Emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning."

It is understandable that in today's fast-paced, instant gratification, social-media fueled, internet-based world, news stories are shot from the hip in an attempt to get something on the newsfeed before the next person — even if the facts are left lurking in the shadows.

But, that does not justify misleading headlines and, even when time is not of the essence, activism is still a factor in information put out by reputable news agencies.

Christine had been contacted to go on the hunt to give a woman's perspective, the story being prompted by the "headline news" from a couple of years earlier that announced Alaskans could kill bear cubs.

Christine had no interest in being filmed on a hunt, but after trying to recommend others who would, no one was interested in doing the story without editorial control. A fear of what it could become was justified and understandable.

One way or another, the story was going to happen, and we decided that we would allow the media to join us, knowing there was nothing we would do or say that we would be ashamed of. We did get them to agree to one editorial control — if Christine did shoot a bear, there would be no video of the kill shot.

When the BBC arrived at our home in early June of 2017, we had no idea what to expect and neither did they. But despite our nearly polar opposite views on hunting, we found an instant connection. It was one of those times when you just know that someone is OK and you'll be friends.

Off we went, hiking into the high country, in hopes of finding a spring black bear. As we climbed we shared our thoughts on hunting, our love of what was left of wild places and on the Alaska ways and beliefs that differ from other parts of the country.

Throughout, the correspondent returned to the issue of killing bear cubs. Numerous times we explained that that regulation applied to a very small segment of Alaska, that we were not in an area where it was allowed, and that it wouldn't matter if it was legal. We, and no one we knew, was going to kill a bear cub.

Late in the day, Christine spotted a black bear coming across a valley far below us. The bear was seemed intent on a course and we moved in to intercept. When in position, Christine had ample opportunity to look the bear over and she chose not to take it. It was a rather small bear, probably its first spring away from mom. There was a near audible sigh of relieve from the audience.

Later, we waited in nervous anticipation for the piece to air, which it did a few months later. All in all, it was fair. There were a couple of awful kill shots spliced in that we wished hadn't been. But they were real and while we despise the video of an animal's death, it is a fact of hunting.

The other thing that was noted by viewers was the correspondent's inference that shooting bear cubs was part of the landscape in Alaska. It was an unfair inference. She contacted me later after being contacted by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. I reminded her that we repeatedly had explained the regulations, but she didn't want to hear what was counter to her activist views on the subject.

It was clear that emotion played a role, and while we love her passion for what she believes in, passion has a way of skewing otherwise great journalism. Emotionalism is, it seems, best left to gas-bagging columnists such as myself, where all understand it is just an opinion.

Steve Meyer is a lifelong Alaskan and an avid shooter. He writes every other week about guns and Alaska hunting. Contact him at oldduckhunter@outlook.com.