Is the Bear "Hunt" in Katmai National Preserve Sporting or Ethical?

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Scott Dickerson Photo, Used With Permission.

This female bear was dredging up dead salmon from the lake bottom as the hunters waited for her to return to the beach, close enough so they could kill her. The bear, which was obviously used to being around humans, walked closely past the hunters as they moved to get even closer before shooting her with an arrow and then with a rifle. Scott Dickerson Photo. Used with Permission.

There are places in the national park system where hunting is allowed. That's not the issue with this post. Rather, it's the ethical questions that swirl around the bear "hunt" that the National Park Service has allowed in the preserve portion of Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. What follows are striking observations of the first few days of this fall's three-week hunt made by Jim Stratton, the National Parks Conservation Association regional director in Alaska, Chris Day, a guide and naturalist in Alaska, and Daniel Zatz, a professional videographer. Read their words, view Mr. Zatz's short video, and ask yourself -- and the Park Service -- whether this bear hunt is sporting, and whether the Park Service is serving as a proper steward for the grizzly bears in Katmai. -- The Editors.

(video copyright wildlifeHD, used with permission)

How Sporting Is The Bear Hunt in Katmai National Preserve?
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By Jim Stratton -
Alaska Regional Director, National Parks Conservation Association

Six weeks ago, I wrote about a request that the National Parks Conservation Association made to the National Park Service in Alaska to shorten the brown bear hunting season in Katmai National Preserve. The reason: an observable, documented decline in the number of brown bears in Katmai.

I also predicted in that piece that the Park Service managers would not listen to us -- and they didn’t.

So on October 1, a three-week brown bear hunt began. When I first saw the video footage of the hunt’s first day, a new question was added to the mix: Is this hunt ethical?

The bears that live in Katmai are viewed by photographers and wildlife enthusiasts all summer long. Every day that weather permits, float planes from Homer bring dozens of people to Katmai to view bears in the wild. Later in the summer, fishing lodges fly in anglers to work the same streams that attract the bears. Between the anglers and the bear viewers, these bears grow very used to people.

Then, on October 1, these habituated bears suddenly become fair game to hunters. This doesn’t seem right – because what’s lacking is a fair chase.

NPCA has argued that the number of bears in the area has diminished over time because of an increase in the number of bears that are hunted and killed. Our request to both the Board of Game in Alaska and the National Park Service for a shorter season this fall, and therefore fewer bears killed, was a reasonable, short-term solution that was nevertheless ignored.

The long-term solution to the over-hunting of bears in this area is to get the state of Alaska and the National Park Service to cooperatively manage the bears in a way that provides for both bear viewing and an ethical hunt. Instead of a season with no limit on the number of bears that can be harvested, the state and NPS should look at localized population information to determine a specific harvest level that provides for both viewing and hunting, and put specific number limits on the hunt.

Management would also allow the Park Service to direct hunters away from the bear-viewing areas to provide both the hunters, and the bears, with a fair chase.

What Happened to The Hunter's Commitment to Fair Chase?
By Chris Day -
Guide and Naturalist, Emerald Air Service

On September 30th, we dropped off two news crews to film the brown bear hunt in the Katmai Preserve.
Overflying the area before landing we observed nine hunting camps. Every camp without exception had bears within 200 yards of their tents – bears were strolling up and down the shores of the lake dredging fish, eating berries, completely unaware of their fates.

More than likely, these bears thought -- if bears think -- that these camps and men were no different than the thousands of sports fishermen and bear viewers they have been co-existing with along the salmon stream all summer long.

While we unloaded the crews' gear from the plane, a beautiful big female with a fat cub walked curiously up to within 50 feet of the plane. Curious, but unconcerned. Three more young females without cubs were dredging fish within a few hundred yards before we taxied out. Sports fishermen were casting flies into the waters of the creek. The scene was one of nature's splendor at its height, the tundra alive with fall color, fat bears taking their last meals before climbing into winter dens.

At four o’clock the next afternoon, October 1 -- the first day of hunting season in the preserve, less than 24 hours after we had dropped the crew off -- the scene had changed.

Overflying the area prior to landing, the shores were strewn with bear carcasses, the dead bruins lying on their backs with legs sprawled out as they had been left after their hides had been stripped and carcasses decapitated.

As we taxied up to shore a young, blond female, a bear that had been there the evening before, walked out of the bushes on the hillside a few hundred feet above the plane. As she casually looked at us, out of the alders between us and the bear two hunters stepped out. The bear did not run, she looked at the hunters and was shot. This was not a big male. It was a young, most probably 4- or 5-year-old, female. This bear was no more than 50 feet from the hunters and only a few hundred feet from their camp.

Bears wandering within 300 yards from the kill didn’t even interrupt their feeding. I seriously question the fairness of the chase involved in killing these bears. The hunt will go on for three more weeks, the carcasses will become bait, and these hunters will be able to shoot bears the following morning without leaving their sleeping bags if they so choose. The hunters did nothing illegal.

In the time since witnessing this kill my emotions have moved from initial disbelief --shock and anger at the moment of the kill, then a deep sorrow and grief into the night after the hunt -- to waking with a burning, white-hot rage in the pit of my stomach that has now tempered and hardened my resolve and determination to end this slaughter.

Hunting pressure has been increasing in this area for a number of years now; we have seen a marked decrease in the number of bears we watch in this area and a change in the makeup of the population.

Biology aside (there are many bears in this area), economics aside (value of hunting versus non-consumptive use of wildlife), this is simply ethically and morally wrong. Hunters as a group adhere to the concept of FAIR CHASE

What we witnessed certainly was not FAIR CHASE.

Follow Up:
Alaska Regional Director Responds to Outrage over Katmai Preserve Bear Hunt

Transcript

TEXT FROM VIDEO:
[0:00] Alaska's Katmai National Park and Preserve is home to hundreds of grizzly/brown bears that have learned to co-exist with humans. Thousands of visitors and photographers enjoy these human-trusting bears each summer.

The Preserve is now open to grizzly bear hunting.

This is what we saw on October 1, 2007

[3:07] At least five bears were killed on the morning of October 1, 2007. The bears were killed by trophy hunters who only took the hide and skull.

[3:20] All of the images here were recorded within an eight-hour period on October 1st, 2007. With more good weather, hunting will continue every day until the 21st.

[3:41] The following images are of the female bear killed by the arrow and gunshots earlier in this video. She spent more than half hour feeding on salmon in front of our camp before she was killed.

[4:35] The material contained on this video is copyrighted. License is hereby granted for use of this program in its entirety only, and only for display and distribution as a News item on the Internet.

Video copyright 2007 wildlifeHD, used with permission

Comments

Kurt,

Can you please give us an update on this shameful action ? My hopes are that the NPS has come to its senses and will not allow this again at a site where the NPS itself has brought people to the bears world and the bears have graciously accepted them !

1: Thanks to all passionate thoughts on this issue, and please answer my more technical questions, below
and,
2: Dear Anonymous: your point about 'who pays for wildlife management' is ridiculous. What they mean by "management" is hunting. Rep. Don Young, (as a Republican in AK would surely have had a veto over Bush's appointment of Mary Bomar) in Congress famously said "Management IS Hunting." It is circular reasoning to say we need hunting to pay for wildlife being 'managed' when all they are is being hunted. Just ask Ron Summerville if he wants to sink more ADF&G money into non-game species.

Huge numbers of tourists pour to AK to see unhunted wildlife. Federal taxes pay for Katmai. MacNeill's unhunted wildlife generates huge revenues, just ask AK vistor and tourism bureau.

Back to # 1, TECHNICAL QUESTIONS:

-- didn't NPS originally (1976) ask that this area be CLOSED to hunting because of what the NPS then called the "firing line?" where vulnerable migrating bears would get picked off in moment in their lifecycle when they are in concentrated habitat? Are these bears actually as habituated as is being said here?

-- I understood that when the salmon are running, bear aggression and waryness toward humans (and other bears) decreases because of the rich feeding going on. Is this true? If so, why not ban hunting when the salmon are running?

-- Someone was talking about hunting with a bow as 'fairer' than with a gun. While it is certainly true the gun does not even approximate fairness at this scene, I would think the danger to humans and bears both from bow hunting would be extreme. It is hard to imagine an arrow preventing a bear from charging and killing people in the vicinity, and likely that many wounded bears would leave the area to die. For those who believe in subsistence-only hunting, as opposed to trophy hunting, it would seem bow hunting would lead to a lot of waste and danger. I saw an angry brown bear once, from gangrened feet (not a hunting wound) that was extremely dangerous to other bears and people, but wonder if a wounded bear in an area that permits park visitation is an inappropriate risk to visitors generally.

I supposed, on the video, it was the guide with the rifle and the tourist-hunters with the bows. I can appreciate the rage toward these guys when you see what is happening to the bears, because no way those guys would have made it back to their plane if the guy with the gun was not there to finish off the bear. And then the bow hunters did a 'high 5.' Go gigure.

-- does anyone know if ADF&G considered limiting the hunt to males-only? Or are they justifying this as an overpopulated bear habitat?

-- Isn't it true that the NPS has the responsibility and the authority in the law establishing the National Preserve to assess the question, raised by commenters above, that the lifecycle of bears is so extended and the habitat so vast that what appears to be an abundance of bears actually does threaten the natural population dynamics NPS is obligated to manage? And don't the federal courts hold federal agencies responsible for the management of non-migratory wildlife on federal land, and they are ultimately responsible and accountable for any management scheme ADF&G would set up? Or did Don Young and Ted Stevens arrange the law, in the same way as they have authorized 'bridges to nowhere' in Alaska, so that the NPS cannot overrule ADF&G inside the Preserve???

-- Did Mary Bomar raise the issue of appropriate protection of wildlife at her recent superintendent's meeting/Extravaganza in Utah?? I heard she put a video together for the superintendents comparing herself to all the Great Directors of the past. . . . Maybe we would think better of Mary Bomar if she would take on Don Young, Don Summerville, and Ted Stevens.

The laws should be changed. National parks should be places of preservation not killing fields, it defeats the whole purpose
of having a preserve in the first place. I have been Katmai twice and it is true what they say about the Bears being very peaceful
and not bothered by the presence of people. Unlike the writer of this report though I think there should be a total ban on hunting in
preserves not just a shorter season. Bears are very intuitive and inteligent Animals. From spending time with Bears myself I realized how little people actually understand about Bear behaviour etc, and how they really are the most misunderstood Animal I know.

You left wing Al Gore type crybabies need to check with the DNR, as their biologists study
the load carrying ability of the land the targeted species inhabits, and harvest quotas are
set from there. Much more humane than starvation. Find the facts before shooting of
your mouth.... I don't like to see bears killed either, but healthy populations must be
maintained.