Debating Native Hunting Of Hibernating Bears


Interesting piece in the Fairbanks News-Miner about Alaskan Natives and hunting for hibernating bears.  It’s a really fascinating debate about the ethics of such hunting.  Then again, subsistence hunting is a critical facet in the lives of many Alaskans, particularly in isolated Native villages.

Here’s the News-Miner’s Sam Friedman:

Bears are among the most respected of animals among the Koyukon Athabascan people, and there are rules for what parts of the bear women are allowed to the eat, he said. Even talking about bears is frowned upon among some people, he said.

In November, DeWilde was one of 20 students who took a class, Introduction to the Board of Game, offered by the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Tanana Chiefs Conference during the meeting. At the meeting, he testified against a proposal from animal rights organization OneProtest that would have made it illegal for hunters to kill bear cubs, which in practice would have ended den hunting.

The proposal, according to DeWilde and others who testified, was based on the misconception that hunters target young bear cubs. In fact, hunters try not to get dens with cubs, but are obligated to kill the cubs if they find them in a den with a sow.

In April 2017, animal rights advocates around the world turned their attention to Alaska because of an act of Congress that removed some hunting restrictions on federal wildlife refuges in Alaska. The law didn’t affect subsistence, so it actually didn’t change the rules for killing bear cubs.

Volunteers with OneProtest, which is based in Jacksonville, Florida, researched the issue and learned that under a few conditions it’s legal to kill sows with cubs in Alaska, an idea the activists found particularly “barbaric.” A petition organized by the group to outlaw cub hunting in Alaska received nearly 30,000 signatures.

OneProtest was founded to ban bear hunting in Florida, and now has several animal welfare campaigns across the country. In addition to its Alaska campaign, the group has tried to stop bear hunting in New Jersey and to close Mexico’s San Juan de Aragon zoo for poor treatment of animals.

Two OneProtest volunteers traveled to Anchorage in November to ask Alaska’s Board of Game to eliminate the two exceptions for Alaska’s prohibition on killing bear cubs: Alaska’s rules allow the killing of cubs in the Yukon Flats north of Fairbanks under a provision the OneProtest volunteers learned was created because of nuisance bears. In a second, and geographically larger area, the rules allow the killing of cubs in bear den hunts.