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STATE BY STATE

Alaska

Hunting Methods  Baiting - Hounding

MOTHERS AND CUBS IN ALASKA - THE FULL STORY

 

Many of you have read the Alaskan Administrative Code AAC 92.260, and you have followed the controversy surrounding H.J. 69 and are surprised and confused by our recent announcement. Indeed, despite tremendous research and interviews, we were confused until we traveled to Alaska. 


While we were in Alaska, we had extensive conversations with all eight Board of Game members, individually. In addition, we spoke with various other officials and the attorney for the Department of Board and Game. Most enlightening, however, were the conversations with the Administrative Council (AC) representatives. Each AC represented a cluster of remote villages.

Sometimes just three villages, sometimes ten. Each village and their elders had already discussed our proposal and shared their feedback with their AC. For many of these ACs it was the first time they came to testify on anything. This misunderstanding troubled them deeply, they were eager to clarify for us. Some traveled for days by dog sled, literally, before flying in a Cessna to Anchorage to clear these misunderstandings for us. We heard from over forty ACs specifically on this matter. Many we had lengthy discussions with. We plan to release a full hour-long documentary with all of their testimony and interviews at a later date.

 

The purpose of this article is to explain the situation in more detail.

If you have read the NBC article, or the Huffington Post article they may leave you utterly confused. We already debunked most of the claims in those articles with our own article prior to Snopes debunking them in their own article. With regards to hunting of bear cubs and sows with cubs, this act is already prohibited statewide by Alaskan Administrative code with two limited exceptions including subsistence purposes and the federal regulations also has exceptions for subsistence purposes. Essentially HJ 69 would not have significantly impacted this issue anyways. The only real impact that those articles and advertisements have had, besides obvious political motivations, was to bring this issue under the microscope for animal rights activists such as OneProtest.

Now let’s peel back the Onion.

H.J. 69 repealed Obama era regulations which prohibited the hunting of cubs and sows with cubs on Alaska National Wildlife refuges (except for subsistence uses by federally qualified subsistence users). This action defaulted the regulations back to the Alaskan Administrative Code (AAC) essentially nullifying the federal regulations. AAC 92.260 prohibits the hunting of cubs or sows with cubs statewide, however, there are two exceptions. Our proposal was to remove both exceptions thus completely prohibiting the hunting of cubs or sows with cubs everywhere, statewide. If it had been accepted our proposal would have been even more restrictive than Obama era regulations as we had no exceptions for subsistence purposes. However, the context, purpose and hidden meaning of the terminology was missing.

 

Let’s review our proposal:

5 AAC 92.260. Taking cub bears and female bears with cubs prohibited

A person may not take a cub bear or a female bear accompanied by a cub bear. [, EXCEPT THAT A BLACK BEAR CUB OR A FEMALE BLACK BEAR ACCOMPANIED BY A CUB BEAR MAY BE TAKEN BY A RESIDENT HUNTER

(1) UNDER CUSTOMARY AND TRADITIONAL USE ACTIVITIES AT A DEN SITE

(A) FROM OCTOBER 15 THROUGH APRIL 30 IN

(I) UNIT 19(A);

(II) UNIT 19(D), THAT PORTION OF THE KUSKOKWIM RIVER DRAINAGE UPSTREAM FROM THE SELATNA AND BLACK RIVER DRAINAGES;

(III) UNITS 21(B), 21(C), AND 21(D); AND

(IV) UNIT 24; AND (B) FROM DECEMBER 1 THROUGH THE LAST DAY OF FEBRUARY IN UNIT 25(D); AND

(2) FROM JULY 1 THROUGH NOVEMBER 30 AND MARCH 1 THROUGH JUNE 30 IN UNIT 25(D).]

 

Everything that is capitalized exists in the current Alaskan Administrative Code and we had proposed that it be removed. The formatting is the specific formatting necessary for proposals, underlined is addition, fully capitalized and inside indicates removal.

It will be difficult to compare and contrast federal subsistence regulations to the Alaskan regulations as we learned the Federal regulations were updated to match the State regulations … and they were updated the day before the Board of Game meeting in Anchorage. see Federal Subsistence Wildlife Regulations

Let’s begin to peel this apart, and break down those two exceptions.

First, they both fall under: “Black Bear cub or a female black bear accompanied by a cub bear may be taken by a resident hunter.” At first, when we read “resident hunter” we thought that may refer to perhaps a Texas big-game hunter with a hunting lodge just outside of Anchorage. We wondered why it didn’t specifically state certain tribes and native peoples. If the intent was to say, perhaps, only the Ahtna peoples in this small area may do this for subsistence purposes then why not say that?

In 1989, the Alaska State Supreme Court ruled in McDowell v. Alaska that the rural priority for subsistence use violated the Alaska State Constitution. One of the consequences of this ruling we learned by directly speaking with the attorney for the Department of Fish and game is that they cannot use such terminology as specific tribes or “native” peoples in their Alaskan Administrative code. They cannot distinguish people in that fashion unlike in many other states. Therefore they use the Game Management Units (GMUs) and the term “resident”. That combination serves the same purpose. These units are very remote, inaccessible by road. You must fly for hours by a small plane and then by ATV, snowmobile or dog sled to even reach these areas. Adult bear hunting is permitted in other areas, and bears are abundant in Alaska. A “rural” resident of Alaska would travel somewhere much closer to their city to hunt adult bears. Although it is technically legal for them to travel to one of these remote areas and abide by the cultural and traditional use practices and then specifically target to take a bear cub… nobody would actually be motivated and sick enough to do that.

 

We discussed this particular scenario with several tribal members and one of my favorite replies was:

“If they came onto our land to hunt bear cubs we would know about it… and let’s just say they wouldn’t make it home.”

So with this understanding, we can essentially translate the first part now as : “A black bear cub or a female black bear accompanied by a cub bear may be taken by a native hunter (under these two conditions)”

Still not great, but we are just getting closer to fully understanding.

The first exception states it must be done under "Customary and Traditional Use Activities at a den site" and during specific date ranges (October 15-April 30) and in specific GMUs (Units 19 (A,D), 21 (B,C,D), 24). The term “customary and traditional use” has a very specific meaning. It refers to an activity performed by those tribes in that region in that specific fashion with a strong historical context. The practices are researched thoroughly and there must be evidence that the practice was performed by those people in that exact way in that specific region. There is a committee that reviews all practices in detail requiring evidence such as cave paintings or art work depicting that activity and they make that determination.  Although mostly this refers to subsistence hunting, we learned it is not limited to that definition, as we will explain. First understand that taking of an animal when it is not according to “customary and traditional use” is a violation with serious consequences. A hunter may lose their rifle and rights to hunt for food. For example, recently a whale went up a river that they normally do not go up. Perhaps due to global warming. Whatever the reason, the local villagers felt blessed by this bonanza of food arriving on their doorstep. They killed the whale and their village had a feast. The problem is that particular tribe in that particular region are not whale hunters. It was against “tradition and cultural use” – therefore they all got in major trouble, and rightly so.

Understand that once an activity is deemed “cultural and traditional” it is essentially locked down and protected, regardless of whether it is actually being performed or not. This is a crucial piece of information to digest. As an extreme example – let’s say there were a rule permitting the hunting of great wooly mammoth in a particular region. Despite the fact that it obviously isn’t happening anymore, that protection would remain.

The second part of the sentence “at a den site” is equally important. Now, we realize the activity of hunting a bear at a den is extremely contentious. It is also extremely misunderstood. We are not advocating this activity – merely helping the public to better understand. There was another proposal submitted, proposal #14, that was full of misinformation such as gassing bears at the den, using explosives and other practices that are so far from reality it was disturbing and extremely insulting to the native peoples we spoke with.

The practice of hunting bears in their dens by native peoples in these regions is exceptionally rare. There are two situations in which this rarely occurs still to this day.

  1. Food. If the person in this region has exhausted all other food sources they may hunt a bear in it’s den. Since the bear is so sacred to them we learned at times they will attempt to seek any frozen left-over game in the den and not wake the bear if at all possible. Sometimes the bear wakes up.

  2. Coming of age. This practice is now exceptionally rare performed only by a small group in a small tribe in the north still practicing the old ways. When a boy is around twelve years old he is given a spear and put at the front of a group of men as they hunt the bear in their den. It is a tremendously terrifying event and central to their coming of age ceremony. Naturally in this case the entire bear is also consumed and used.

In both cases there is documented evidence in those regions of those activities, therefore they are protected under “cultural and traditional use” even though in reality they are extremely rarely performed.

Now you may begin to ask… how does this tie in with bear cubs and female bears with cubs? Why would they specifically be mentioned? How in the world is that part of their tradition and culture?

It isn’t.

In both cases they take extreme measures to ensure that the bear is not a female bear with cubs. They check the tracks, they know by other ancient techniques passed down by their forefathers. In some very rare cases they make a mistake, they are wrong. When they kill the bear… they discover behind it there are cubs. For these people – that is a tremendously bad event. We heard testimony with native peoples on the verge of tears describing how if that happens they are cursed for life. They will not have children as they fear the child will be born stillborn. They will likely then not ever get married as the woman would avoid such a cursed man. It is an abdominal event in their culture that brings bad luck just to discuss it publicly.

So why then isn’t is simply prohibited, if they already are taking such measures to avoid this scenario?

Time for an analogy. 

Imagine you, an animal lover, are driving down a dark back road in the woods. You are obeying the speed limits and paying attention to the road. A dog comes out of nowhere and unfortunately you hit the dog. You get out of your car and run to the dog… but it is too late. It is dead. You are sobbing uncontrollably when a police car pulls up behind you. The officer then confiscates your car and your drivers license and informs you that you will never get your drivers license back – ever. You killed a dog. He drives off leaving you there in the woods, alone.

The Alaskan Administrative Code is structured in this way not to encourage the killing of bear cubs or sows with cubs but instead to forgive such a horrible mistake if it does happen. If it were completely prohibited and this did happen and game wardens then discovered it (they are good) – the consequence would potentially be for the hunter to lose their rifle and their right to hunt, forever. Severe consequence for someone that lives off the land.

The dates and regions are specifically tailored around regional breeding and denning activities to minimize the chances of the bear being a female with cubs.

One unexpected positive consequence of our proposal is that the elders are now discussing this normally taboo topic. We hear they are contemplating stopping the practice of den hunting entirely, since it is so rare already. If the elders in these villages agree and do that – it will stop. These people have immense respect for their elders. The AAC may continue unchanged since it is a traditional and cultural activity (think wooly mammoth), but if the elders say to stop they will stop regardless of the regulations. We will continue to talk with them and partner with them and respect them.

So that explains the first exception, fully. What about exception #2 that is not under “traditional and cultural use” and is only in GMU #25D? Why is that one different?

Evidently that particular region has more fish and more problems with nuisance bears coming into the village. They attempt to scare off the bears but in some cases for protection they have to shoot the bear, even if it is a female bear with cubs. Proving that it was in self-defense is almost impossible in these remote regions. Once again, this practice is exceedingly rare and evidently that exception has been in the rules for many years. We spoke with the AC representing that particular region. He was not even aware that rule still existed and he is completely open to the idea of having it removed. Once again, the change must come from them not the outside.

We have been invited to visit the main village in that particular remote region next July to discuss this matter in more detail. The opportunity to have that second exception removed will come up in two years and perhaps they will opt to have it removed, we are hopeful. Understand that either way – they are not intentionally hunting sows nor cubs.

Also the difference between “hunt” and “kill” is intention.

With all of this understanding you can now translate the Alaskan Administrative code to:

The hunting of bear cubs and sows with cubs is completely prohibited statewide. If a bear cub or a sow with cubs is unintentionally or unavoidably killed by this small group of very specific native peoples in these very specific very remote regions – we will forgive such an unfortunate event. 

We hope this article has helped to explain the situation in more detail. Please stay tuned, in a few months we will publish an extensive documentary with their own testimony.

OUR ORIGINAL ALASKA WILDLIFE RESEARCH PAPER (REGARDING H.J. RES 69) 4/18/2017

INTRODUCTION

This issue has raised a great furor amongst fellow wildlife advocates. There have been a number of articles in major news publications pertaining to this issue, and unfortunately many of them are riddled with inaccuracies. What is worse, some “news” organizations are perpetuating and magnifying the inaccuracies to drive the throngs of irate animal advocates to sites to sign ineffectual petitions that serve only to fill the databases of spam advertisers, and drive click-bait banner ads.

 

The goal of this research paper is to clarify in layman’s terms the current state of affairs with regards to the wildlife laws in Alaska, the true impact to wildlife as a result of H.J. RES 69, and what effective strategies can be implemented to correct the situation.

 

Before we begin – you may ask what research has been conducted to support this paper? Evidently far more than most main-stream news agencies. The sources for this information are quoted throughout the paper. All are publically available legal documents and court records, including the full congressional record for H.J. RES 69, and many of Alaska Department of Fish and Game publications, including the Intensive Management Protocol, The Subsistence Supplement, The Predator Control Supplement, The Hunting Guide, the Trapping Guide and various US Fish and Wildlife legal publications.

 

In addition to exhaustive reading and research – we reached out directly to Alaska Department of Fish and Game with many questions and found them both responsive and helpful in clarifying many issues. They were polite and helpful in this research – happy to clarify the truth and mistruth and verified many misperceptions as just that – misperceptions. However, they also verified some barbaric practices as truth. The goal of this paper is to discern fact from fiction – and discover the appropriate and effective means to implement change in favor of protecting wildlife.

 

THE BILL

How did this start? There is a delicate balance between Alaska Department of Fish and Game and US Fish and Wildlife (FWS). For the most part FWS which is a federal agency allows states to manage their own wildlife. They partner with them in this effort. In this case they passed amended regulations for National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs) in Alaska that govern predator control, public participation and closure procedures. On August 5th, 2016 they passed the “Non-subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska” (81 FR 52247) … which coincidentally should not be confused with (81 Fed. Reg. 52247) which gives the National Park Service “the authority to regulate the exercise of non-federal oil and gas rights within park boundaries for the purpose of protecting the resources and values administered by the NPS”. Great. While we are busy with this they are setting up to drill oil?

 

There were several practices allowed in Alaska NWRs by Alaska Department of Fish and Game that the FWS was opposing and with this regulation attempting to enforce federal laws in Alaska to prohibit certain practices. The tricky part here is that some of the practices they called out in that federal regulation were already outlawed by Alaska Department of Fish and Game. They amended their federal regulation and called this fact out also in the congressional hearing detailing that … but those overlaps and mistakes were still propagated by the media.

 

In addition – the federal regulation which they passed - if it was enforced - would not have addressed some of the most egregious practices. We need to peel back the layers of this onion slowly, identify the practices and circumstances for those practices and identify where we can effectively apply pressure to effect change.

 

So they passed the regulation, with little fan-fare. Along comes House Joint Resolution 69. “Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the final rule of the Department of the Interior relating to "Non-Subsistence Take of Wildlife, and Public Participation and Closure Procedures, on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska". This resolution was to make ineffective the federal regulation. It was passed into law 4/3/2017.

 

What does that mean? The federal regulation (FR 81 52247) does not have effect to Alaska State laws. It’s actually very short, and copied at the end here for your reading. “and such rule shall have no force or effect”.

 

So what exactly is the impact of this HJ 69? What is Alaska allowing, legally now, that the federal regulation was attempting to stop? And what is the right course of action to take now to stop any practices we disagree with?

 

Let’s break this down by the three hot topics promulgated by public perception, which includes some truth and some misperception - and we will drill into and clarify.

• Killing bears from airplanes

• Killing bear cubs and mothers of cubs.

• Baiting and trapping bears

 

These are the three main areas that have received the most attention, specifically – many are stating that HJ 69 now makes these activities perfectly legal in Alaska. If you were a hunter in Alaska and picked up a national newspaper you may think you can now go out and start shooting cubs, setting traps or jump in a Cessna and start shooting. That is absolutely false.

 

KILLING BEARS FROM AIRPLANES

I’m picturing full-out war on bears in Alaska is now legal? Really? Let’s start by examining the 81 FR 52247 to see what specific Alaska State practices regarding airplanes and hunting the federal regulation was attempting to block before being nullified by HJ 69. Was it trying to block killing bears from airplanes?

 

As set forth in our January 8, 2016, proposed rule (81 FR 887), we remove a statement at the current 50 CFR 36.32(e) that references compliance with other mandates (such as the Airborne Hunting Act, 16 U.S.C. 742j-1) in order to reduce redundancy. The requirement for compliance with applicable State and Federal laws is set forth at 50 CFR 36.32(a) in this final rule.

 

So… they actually already removed that from the original federal regulation – that is clarified in the amendments section. Why was it removed? Because it was redundant. It was already illegal, both by federal and state laws – as the amendment above clearly states and references.

 

This topic was also brought up and discussed in the Congressional Record for HJ 69:

 

"Additionally, the claim that removing this rule would allow for the use of airplanes or helicopters to hunt is totally false. Using aircraft is illegal in the State of Alaska. The 2016-2017 Alaska Hunting Regulations state: You may not take game by driving, herding, harassing, or molesting game with any motorized vehicle such as an aircraft, airboat, snow machine, motorboat, et cetera."

 

If there are any circumstances this is actually allowed we would be interested to learn the details, but even if it is allowed it was certainly not being blocked by 81 FR 52247, therefore HJ 69 had no effect whatsoever on this pre-existing law whether it had passed or not. The practice is and was illegal – so please let’s not waste energy and petitions chasing this fallacy any longer. There are true evil acts for us to focus our forces on.

KILLING MOTHER AND CUBS

I wish I could proclaim this barbaric act was also entirely a fallacy. Unfortunately there is some truth to this statement. How it is or is not impacted by HJ 69 is surrounded by falsehood and once again distracts us from where we need to apply concerted effort to stop this horrible act. Again, let’s peel back the layers.

 

The confusion is around statements such as “HJ 69 will make it legal for Alaska hunters to go hunt bear cubs and mothers of cubs (sows).” That’s not true. That statement would imply two things: (1) That hunting of cubs is allowed by Alaska State laws (which has some truth to it actually) and (2) That 81 FR 52247 was attempting to prohibit this activity. If those two things were true then HJ 69 would have prevented the hunting of cubs and sows. They are not entirely true.

 

Let’s start with the Alaska State Law involving cubs:

“It is illegal to shoot cubs or a sow accompanied by cubs of either species.” And “Hunters may not take any bear cubs or sows with cubs. For this regulation, a black bear cub is defined as a black bear in its first year of life while a grizzly bear cub is defined as a grizzly in its first or second year of life.” – Alaska Department of Fish and Game Hunting Regulations."

 

So you may ask, what is the problem? There are only special circumstances where taking of cubs is permitted, these are included under Intensive Management and Traditional Use:

“You MAY NOT take black or brown/grizzly bear cubs or sows accompanied by cubs; however, black bear cubs and sows accompanied by cubs may be taken by resident hunters Oct. 15 - Apr. 30 under customary and traditional use activities at a den site in Unit 19A, that portion of Unit 19D in the Kuskokwim River drainage upstream from the Selatna and Black River drainages, Units 21B, 21C, 21D, 24, and 25D. In addition, black bear cubs and sows accompanied by cubs may be taken by resident hunters year round in Unit 25D.” – Alaska Department of Fish and Game

 

We are not at all saying this practice is good. The opposite, it is abhorrent under any circumstance including traditional use or intensive management. It is important to understand the distinction. This was very interesting as it was so counter to the message blasted on the media regarding hunting of cubs. It seemed that with HJ 69 now everyone would be able to hunt cubs in Alaska (and from an airplane).

 

After exhaustive research, we directly contacted Alaska Department of Fish and Game with direct and pointed questions. Wade Schock a Wildlife Biologist at the Anchorage Wildlife Center responded:

"Currently, in State Law, sows with cubs or bear cubs of either species are not legal to harvest unless they fall under an Intensive Management Program (none are currently active in the State for bears). Harvesting a bear in a den is not legal except in a limited area as a customary and traditional use activity: “A resident hunter may only harvest a black bear under customary and traditional use activities at a den site from Oct. 15-April 30 in 19A, that portion of the Kuskokwim River drainage within 19D upstream from the Selatna River drainage and the Black River drainage, and in Units 21B, 21C, 21D, 24, and 25D.

 

These allegations and much other damaging misinformation have been spread on social media and elsewhere largely by activist groups." 

 

Understood. We are an activist group, but it does not help our cause to merely spread misinformation, that is why unlike other organizations that blindly spread information without their own research – we are going the extra mile. That is why we are researching this matter fully. We will dig into the details of Units and how we can effectively block this barbaric practice, but first back to the original question… was HJ 69 at fault? Was this practice under the Intensive Management going to be banned by 81 FR 52247 and therefore HJ 69 now allows this barbaric practice to proceed? If that were the case the 81 FR 52247 would specifically prohibit such practices under Intensive Management, and technically the uproar regarding hunting of cubs and HJ 69 would be correct. However, going back to the original 81 FR 52247 - it is not blocking that practice:

 

"The take of black bear sows with cubs is only allowed under State regulations in specific game management units for customary and traditional use; therefore it is not currently nor in the past has it been legal for the general public to participate in this activity outside of that framework.

 

The proposed rule would amend regulations for refuges in Alaska. The proposed rule would: (1) Codify how our existing mandates for the conservation of natural and biological diversity, biological integrity, and environmental health on refuges in Alaska relate to predator control (50 CFR 36.1); (2) prohibit several particularly effective methods and means for take of predators (50 CFR 36.32); and (3) update our public participation and closure procedures (50 CFR 36.42). Predator control is prohibited on refuges in Alaska unless it is determined necessary to meet refuge purposes, Federal laws, or policy and is consistent with our mandates to manage for natural and biological diversity, biological integrity, and environmental health."

 

This rule would not change Federal subsistence regulations (36 CFR 242 and 50 CFR 100) or restrict taking of fish or wildlife for subsistence uses under Federal subsistence regulations. - 81 FR 52247

 

In other words, it was legal before 81 FR 52247 under special circumstances and it would still be legal with or without HJ 69.

 

81 FR 52247 was not going to help us stop this barbaric practice, and nor did HJ 69 allow it. It was allowed, would have continued to be allowed under the FR, and it is still allowed under HJ 69. Do not give up – there is still hope we can end this practice.

BAITING FOR TRAPPING BEARS

Again, we go back to 81 FR 52247 to see specifically where they were proposing banning the use of bait and trapping of bears. If it was prohibited there… and allowed in Alaska Fish and Wildlife… then HJ 69 is now allowing it?

 

"We would amend 50 CFR 32.2(h) to state that black bear baiting is authorized in accordance with State regulations on national wildlife refuges in Alaska.

 

The USFWS is seeking comment on the type of bait allowed to be used for the baiting of black or brown bears. Currently, State regulations, which are adopted on refuges, require the bait used at bear baiting stations to be biodegradable. People use a range of different types of bait for the baiting of bears, including parts of fish and game that are not required to be salvaged when these species are harvested, as well as human and pet food products."

 

So … they do allow this practice. Specifically in the Intensive Management program. See Unit 16 Bear Predator Control Program and once again 81 FR 52247 was not blocking this practice. Instead, it appears to re-affirm this practice and even state the bait should be biodegradable. Laughable if it were not so barbaric.

The Board of Game

Alaska Department of Fish and Game 
P.O. Box 115526 
1255 W. 8th Street 
 Juneau, AK 99811-5526 

Appendix

http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=gameboard.main
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=intensivemanagement.main
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=intensivemanagement.video
https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/.../intensive_management_stories_of_success.pdf
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/research/programs/intensivemanagement/pdfs/intensive_management_protocol.pdf
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/research/programs/intensivemanagement/pdfs/intensive_management_protocol.pdf
Full congressional record :https://www.congress.gov/congressional-record/2017/02/16/house-section/article/H1259-7

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