On January 1, Citizens United Against Bear Baiting delivered more than the 33,500 signatures required to put a ban on bear baiting on the November 2004 Alaska ballot.
The proposed initiative would read,
“An act prohibiting the baiting or intentional feeding of bears.”
Be it enacted by the People of the State of Alaska:
Alaska Statutes Title 16 is amended to add a new Section 16.05.781, as follows:
16.05.781. Baiting or intentional feeding of bears prohibited.
(a) A person may not bait or intentionally feed a bear for the purpose of hunting, photographing, or viewing.
(b) Under this section, to “bait” or “intentionally feed” means to intentionally give, deposit, distribute, discard, scatter or otherwise expose any attractant or edible material in order to attract or entice a bear to enter into, or to remain in, a location or area.
(c) A person who violates this section is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
Currently Alaska permits the baiting of black bears but not of brown bears. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game argues that baiting of black bears is a legitimate wildlife management tools, especially in area where it is otherwise difficult to hunt bears due to thick vegetation. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game about 500 of the 2,500 bears killed annually by hunters in Alaska are baited.
Arkansas, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming also allow bear baiting. Ballot initiatives have led to the banning of bear baiting in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state.
Opponents of bear baiting argue that it is unsportsmanlike, unsafe (since it might encourage bears to seek out food left behind by people), and inhumane. Proponents argue that baiting is a long standing tradition and is safer than other methods of hunting because hunters have a clear shot at the animals they are hunting.
Major national hunting and anti-hunting groups are likely to work to influence the outcome of the voting. The Humane Society of the United States’ Wayne Pacelle told the Anchorage Daily News,
We will certainly encourage our 13,000 Alaska members to become involved and vote yes on the initiative.
Pacelle added that HSUS would encourage “indigenous” fund raising to pass the initiative.
Meanwhile, Rob Sexton of the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance told the Anchorage Daily News, “We’ll call on sportsmen everywhere to help support the vote-no effort” and added that the effort to fight the ballot initiative would likely cost several hundred thousands of dollars.
As far as the arguments go, I agree with the Sportsmen’s Alliance that whether or not bear baiting is allowed should depend on whether it is a sound wildlife management practice rather than on vague arguments about whether or not it is “unfair.” Craig Medred of the Anchorage Daily News did a nice job of pointing out the problems with the fairness argument in a column for that newspaper,
All of which brings us back to Alaska, where wildlife is nowhere near as bountiful as Outside, where fewer and fewer hunt for sport, and where the idea of fairness has been dragged a baffling distance from its origins and sensibilities.
Suddenly, people are arguing about what’s fair to individual wild animals — as if that somehow mattered.
Does someone out there truly believe a bear cares whether it gets shot at a bait station or splashing in a salmon stream or frolicking in a berry patch, or that a wolf cares that death comes in the form of a single bullet from a quiet marksman hidden 300 yards away or a hail of bullets from an airplane or the noose of a snare?
The means of death are irrelevant to these animals. They want only to survive, but they can’t.
Sooner or later, they’re destined to die, as are we, because the cycle of life is built on death. It’s inherently unfair and random. One calf gets picked to become a breeding bull and spend its life in pampered enjoyment. Another gets earmarked to be fattened up for shipment to the slaughterhouse.
That’s the way it has been since the days of the dinosaurs. The animals with fangs and claws and tools kill and consume the plant eaters.
Bear baiting ban signatures delivered. MARY PEMBERTON
Associated Press, January 9, 2004.
Bear baiting opponents deliver signatures aplenty. Joel Gay, Anchorage Daily News, January 9, 2004.
Who ever said hunting was supposed to be fair? Craig Medred, Anchorage Daily News, January 25, 2004.