I'v linked and copy/pasted a post from April 5, 2004 (ironic, huh?) that was posted by a gent that I believe was(is) an ADF&G biologist.
I hope it's OK to do this.
These are not my words, but his. This was posted at the time of the bait-banning initiative. This is the finest biological explanation of the benefits of bear baiting I've ever seen.
Read, enjoy, learn!
The Ecological Significance of Bear Baiting
Posted by Biologist on Apr 05 2004
Though I haven't done it in nearly a decade, I am a supporter of bear baiting because of the sound ecological principles that underlie its effectiveness as a management tool. The key to understanding this concept is in BOTH the timing of the bear take over bait AND the large number of bears (a renewable resource) that are harvested annually.
Though ethics must certainly dictate our actions, we can all come up with examples of unethical hunting practices that we've either witnessed or read about. Thus, centering a defense of bear baiting around "ethics" is a poor strategy since they reflect opinions. Everyone has opinions, and the hunting community is only a small fraction of Alaska's residents and even a smaller fraction of the national average. Thus, it puts ethically-centered arguments down at the same level as those with anti-bear baiting opinions who have different ethics. It is much more effective to focus on scientific reasoning and empirical data, so I would like to share some original ideas since our collective voices will be heard among a much broader audience than mine, alone. For example:
-- The PEAK of bear emergence from the den in Southcentral AK is usually around the first week of May (with a bit of annual variation correlated with snow cover duration ).
-- Then the bears remain lethargic for a week to 10 days as their metabolism gradually re-adjusts to a more active lifestyle.
-- Around the last part of May, at the same time moose and caribou begin dropping their calves, bears have ravenous appetites, and many have been shown to specialize at preying upon newborn caribou and moose calves. The exact proportion of bears (black or brown) shown to prey upon calves hasn't been established and would certainly vary from year to year and unit to unit anyway.
-- Since bear baiting only occurs in the spring, it removes a large number of bears that may otherwise feed on a large number of calves.
-- Spot and stalk bear hunting is another effective method in the spring, but the important message is that a large number of bears are killed over bait. STATEWIDE averages show that approximately 20% of the 2,500 black bears taken ANNUALLY are taken over bait. However, bear baiting is not allowed in the fall, so this proportion is obviously much higher when looking solely at the spring harvest, which is when the calves are so vulnerable and most ungulate predation occurs. Thus, baiting is an extremely effective management tool that affects bear, moose, and caribou populations.
-- After bear baiting season is finished (mid-to-late June, depending on area), moose calves are fast and agile enough that they are no longer as vulnerable to bear predation as they were only a few weeks prior, AND there are less predatory bears in the population.
-- Relying solely on the fall bear harvest isn't effective since many bears harvested at that time have already eaten calves of the year and have already taken their toll on moose and caribou recruitment.
-- Finally, its unrealistic to assume we can continue to take the same number of prey species every year while decreasing annual predator harvest. This leaves more predators (including humans) and exerts GREATER pressure on a finite prey resource. Its like imposing bag limits on pike in trout lakes.
-- The message that needs to be stressed is that we can't afford to eliminate a management tool as effective as bear baiting, or it will have consequences among both consumptive and non-consumptive users. These ecological principles tie us, bears, moose, and caribou together in the same food web.
A few nonscientific considerations:
-- Supporters of the bear baiting ban initiative are promoting the idea that baiting bears will somehow place urban residents at great risk. This is a rather nebulous argument; however, bear baiting isn't even legal around Alaska's most urbanized population centers. If a bear, like a human, smells something delicious... even if it has never tasted that item before, it will investigate the scent. Thus, it is unwise handling/storage of aromatic items that attract bears to urban areas, not the baiting that occurs in rural areas.
-- Since bear baiting isn't allowed in (hunting subunits) surrounding Alaska's major population centers, the vast majority of individuals deciding the fate of this management technique don't live where bear baiting is more necessary to maintain healthy populations of subsistence species. Thus, this ban will likely exacerbate the urban/rural divide in Alaska and give ADF&G a black eye if the consequences of increasing bear densities are realized.
Comments and critiques are welcome. Please feel free to copy and send this editorial to the newspapers in Fairbanks and Juneau. I'll send it to Anchorage after the debate has gained steam.