Humane Society poll: Majority of Alaskans opposed to relegalizing bear baiting

By Sam Friedman,

* Jul 8, 2018

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FAIRBANKS – According to a poll commissioned by a national animal rights
organization, a vast majority of Alaskans oppose the relegalization of bear
baiting and several other hunting practices that were banned in Alaska’s
National Preserves by the Obama administration.

The Humane Society of the United States commissioned Remington Research
Group to conduct a telephone survey of 1,004 Alaskans last month.
Respondents were asked five questions about relegalizing techniques on
National Preserves, including bear baiting, hunting hibernating bears and
shooting swimming caribou.

“Alaskans and the majority of Americans oppose the killing of brown bears,
black bears, wolves and other species using unthinkably inhumane and
unsporting practices on National Preserves in Alaska,” stated Nicole
Paquette, vice president of the Humane Society, in a written statement.
“Overturning the National Park Service’s 2015 rule is simply and purely
motivated by trophy-hunting special-

interest groups.”

Alaska’s statewide political leaders – including Gov. Bill Walker’s
administration – applauded the National Park Service’s plan to reverse the
Obama-era restrictions. The Park Service announced the intent to reverse the
rules in May and the issue is currently open for public comment.

With the exception of bear-baiting, most of the hunting practices up for
relegalization aren’t widely practiced in the state. For example, state
regulations only allow for the hunting of hibernating bears in two sections
of the northern Interior. But state leaders have argued they need to fight
these rules and similar now-repealed restrictions in National Wildlife
Refuges as part of the decades-struggle with the federal government over who
has authority over hunting and fishing rules.

Bruce Dale, the Division of Wildlife Conservation director at the Alaska
Department of Fish and Game, said this week that the poll doesn’t represent
popular opinion in Alaska because it asked misleading questions. Asked for
an example, Dale pointed to a question that asked respondents if they oppose
reversing the rule that “prohibited guides from using packs of hounds to
chase and corner black bears in trees so that hunters could more readily
shoot them.”

Dale said the reference to hunting guides is misleading.

“They threw ‘guides’ in there,” he said with a laugh. “It makes it sound
like it’s some big business thing.”

Dale said the Humane Society has a history of commissioning misleading polls
in Alaska that focus on urban residents and doen’t call cell phones.

With its references to sport hunting and trophy hunting, the Humane Society
ignores the fact that many hunts aren’t supposed to be about sport, such as
the practice of hunting swimming caribou in northwest Alaska, Dale said.

“It’s something they’ve always done there,” he said. “People have been doing
it since people have lived on that part of the planet. This is an ancient
practice. It’s very economical. It defines subsistence pretty well.”

The Humane Society defended the legitimacy of the poll. Surveyors called 70
percent landlines and 30 percent cell phones. They polled statewide and
covered both urban and rural areas, said Wendy Keefover, who manages the
Humane Society’s native carnivore protection campaign.

Remington Research Group is a Kansas City company founded by Republican
political consultant Jeff Roe. The poll had a margin of error of plus or
minus 3 percent, with a 95 percent level of confidence.

Among the questions about the rollback of National Preserve rules, a
majority and in some cases a supermajority of respondents said they opposed
lifting the hunting restrictions.

The question about swimming caribou elicited the most opposition. When
asked: “Do you support or oppose a new proposal to again allow the killing
of swimming caribou, including with motor-powered boats, on National
Preserves in Alaska,” 75 percent of respondents said “oppose”; 22 percent
said “support”; and 3 percent said “not sure.”

In addition to the five questions about reversing the 2015 rules, a sixth
question tackled a different subject – the buffer zone around Denali
National Park.

“Each year, hunters and trappers target and kill wolves, brown bears, black
bears, wolverines, lynx and other wildlife on state lands along the
northeast boundary of Denali National Park and Preserve (also known as the
Stampede Trail). This affects Denali’s ecosystem and reduces the Park’s
650,000 annual visitors’ wildlife-viewing success,” the question stated.

“Do you support or oppose establishing a no-kill buffer zone on these state
lands adjacent to the northeast boundary of Denali National Park and
Preserve to protect wolves, bears, wolverines, lynx and other wildlife?”

Fifty-four percent of respondents supported a buffer zone, 37 percent
opposed it, and 9 percent weren’t sure.

A no-kill buffer zone was previously in place in the Stampede Road area
between 2000 and 2010. The issue of whether trappers and hunters are to
blame for National Park visitors seeing fewer wolves in recent years has
been the subject of a great deal of debate and research. A 2016 study found
a correlation between the existence of the buffer and visitor wolf-viewing
success but no statistically significant link between the number of wolves
harvested and the wolf-viewing rate.

Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on
Twitter:@FDNMoutdoors.

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