Forgive the pun, but bear with me for a minute...
This is my first year baiting along the Hope Road though I'm familiar with the area. I think we can all agree that the Hope Road corridor is popular because it's only an hour or so from Anchorage, sparsely populated (with people) and it holds bears year in and year out. It also supports fairly high amount of recreational traffic besides hunting, and if the annecdotal evidence (in the form of trail cam pics posted by forum members) holds true then the brown bear population on the Kenai is far better off than ADF&G claims.
I ask the question because I see the potential for growing bear-human conflicts. Given that there is a high concentration of black bear bait stations in this corridor, and that brown bears are off limits to baiters are we not habituating these bears, if only seasonally to associate human activity with food?
Black bears, by contrast, learn to become bait wary as they age because they are hunted but brown bears have no such negative association. For them spring baiting season is a free lunch. In the case of a place like the Hope Road, legal baiting activity is possibly drawing and/or holding browns in an area with a resident human population that spikes as the bears become active again. I don't know the history of human-brown bear conflicts in this area so I have no knowledge if there is even a problem or if baiting is affecting it.
Of course, this same line of reasoning could be used as justification for suspending baiting in this area but given the social and political pressure that would ensue this is an unlikely outcome IMO.
Brown bears are already limited to a drawing permit GMU 7 as it is. According to ADF&G's harvest data no brown bears were taken in 2008 and only 1 was taken in 2007, and except for 1 bear in '04 there are no reports for '06-'01 (closed season?). I'm assuming here that a drop in harvest rates was a factor in the BOG's decision to limit brown bear hunting.
Part of what I'm wondering is if years of baiting hasn't created an artificial shift in denning patterns, and in turn created a localized concentration of brown bears in the Hope Road area that are essentially unhuntable? I say unhuntable because of the "...knows, or should know" blurb in the regs regarding prohibiting the taking of brown bears within 1/2 mile of a bait station. Should know? That's pretty open to interpretation. As the regs are currently written a tag holder would be asking for a fine for attempting to hunt anywhere along the Hope road.
My thoughts on considering baiting as a legal means for taking brown bears is as follows:
Negative reinforcement: habituate browns bears to getting hunted over bait.
Baiting fits the terrain: northern GMU 7 is climax coastal forest and not really conducive to spot and stalk.
As for the moral opposition, most brown bear hunting is related to food sources anyway.
Make it a drawing permit. Assume a high degree of success and limit tag numbers accordingly.
Given the high number of big boars caught on film so far this season, selecting for big males could realistically be done this way.
As always, I appreciate your thoughts