December 1, 2011 |

Advisory committee hears ideas to cut bear baiting

The Upper Lynn Canal Advisory Committee to the boards of Fish and Game will take up game proposals, as well as a request to prohibit black bear baiting in the area, at its Dec. 16 meeting, according to chair Dean Risley.

Game guide Steve Fossman asked for the ban, saying he was afraid that the efficiency of the hunt and increased participation would cut into the local black bear population. A separate proposal would alter baiting dates.

Under baiting regulations, hunters can set out food at "stations," where bears are drawn in. About one-third of 32 black bears taken in the Haines area each year are harvested by such means, according to the state Department of Fish and Game.

"There’s too much activity in the valley now. There are too many people on the river… I’m dead serious when I say that why I want this is because I want to be able to continue hunting and I want my grandkids to be able to," Fossman said at the Nov. 18 advisory committee meeting.

Fish and Game generally supports baiting as a form of hunting for black bears, but is concerned about stations attracting brown bears, said Anthony Crupi, assistant area game biologist for the department.

Fossman said he expected to hear an earful of complaints about the idea, but that he would continue talking it up, including to old-timers. "I’m asking you to look down the road not just five years, but 50 years," he told the committee.

The idea got some support at the Nov. 18 advisory committee meeting. Member Al Gilliam, who is also a game guide, said the proposal was a "breath of fresh air." He said bait stations draw in brown bears, including trophy-sized ones. "Twenty years from now… no one would miss it."

Committee member Dave Werner has made a proposal that would change the baiting season dates from June 1 to June 30. Baiting currently is allowed April 15 to June 15.

The change would allow baiting after brown bear season closed, effectively prohibiting hunters from harvesting brown bears at bait stations. Werner said he’s opposed to baiting but said his is a "compassionate" alternative to a ban.

"For quite a few people, it’s a subsistence thing, and it’s good meat," Werner said. It would also provide an extra chance for hunters who didn’t harvest a bear during the non-baiting season. Black bear hunting is open Sept. 1 through June 30. Eighty percent of the harvest comes in springtime.

In an interview this week, game guide Larry Benda endorsed Werner’s approach. Benda said he supports baiting as long as hunters "do everything legally and cleanly." Bait stations provide a close-range shot and a good opportunity for hunters with day jobs who may not have time for a tradition hunt, Benda said. It also provides an opportunity for novice or young hunters, he said.

Benda said brown bears "a lot of times" are attracted to baiting stations. "If it’s closed, it’s fine, but I can see how some people need it to get their food. Everybody’s going more for subsistence living" due to tougher economic times, he said.

Guide Gilliam said he supports Fossman’s approach. "A black bear bait station has brown bears on it, no matter how you look at it. The nicest brown bears are camped out there. It’s like a pig in a trough. And if a brown bear is there, somebody’s going to shoot it."

Gilliam said Werner’s proposal would help, but a problem arises when bait like fryer grease spills into soil, attracting brown bears even when a station’s not officially "baited." "It’s going to keep drawing them in for years and years."

Hunters are required to remove soil and other objects contaminated by bait and are prohibited from shooting brown bears that are drawn to bait stations, but Gilliam said that with only one enforcement officer in the upper Lynn Canal, those rules are routinely overlooked. "People don’t do it and you can’t expect them to."

Biologist Crupi said the state wouldn’t comment on proposals until they’re officially filed. The next deadline for game proposals is May 2012. Crupi said arguments for baiting include that it helps provide food for people at a time of year when there’s not much fresh meat available, and that it helps hunters select male bears for harvest.

Crupi said there has been no noticeable increase in black bear hunting or baiting around Haines in the past 20 years. There are 14 conditions on bear baiting locally, including ones requiring that bait must be biodegradable and that stations must be at least one mile from major roads, houses and seasonal cabins.

Fossman told the advisory committee that if it endorsed a baiting ban, a prohibition would be "instantaneous." However, after Crupi spoke at the Nov. 18 meeting, he wasn’t so sure.

Crupi told the committee he couldn’t see a ban being approved by the state Board of Game, the state-appointed citizens’ group that establishes game regulations. "You would have to have a lot of justification in your proposal," Crupi said.