As one who blogs about political, cultural and environmental issues for the Daily News, and also writes commentaries in other forums, I am regularly amused, bewildered, and/or exasperated by online comments posted by many (though certainly not all) readers who disagree with my ideas and opinions. I realize I am hardly alone in this; it’s become the nature of the Internet beast, that people can respond to commentaries and stories and make outrageous claims, rebuttals, or accusations and refuse to take responsibility for their comments by attaching their real names to what they write. Furthermore, many of the comments suggest that the people who make them either don’t fully read or don’t understand my points. Or maybe some don’t care, they simply use these forums as an opportunity to vent their own frustrations and prejudices. Sometimes all I can do is throw up my hands and call out to the heavens, “WHAT THE HELL?” So it goes.
I was recently reminded of this peculiarly modern circumstance after writing a commentary for the Alaska Dispatch, which was posted on Feb. 23 under the headline “Uneasy about new Alaska bear snaring? Time to speak up.”
I will repeat that commentary below, since this blog likely reaches some readers who don’t follow the Alaska Dispatch. But before doing that, I’d like to share a couple of comments that annoyed and frustrated me.
From slackjaw: “This [the snaring and shooting of bears] isn’t hunting or fair chase. It’s a means of reducing predator populations. Touchy-feely, soft liberals don’t get it and never will.”
What slackjaw somehow missed (as readers will see below), is that I never confused predator control with hunting. From the outset of my piece, it is clear that I am addressing the state’s predator control policies and tactics. As for his comment about “touchy-feely, soft liberals,” well, I am certainly liberal (and green), but I’ve been told that I’m not especially touchy-feely. And I’m not quite sure what slackjaw means by “soft.” Perhaps that I’m soft hearted and don’t enjoy the prolonged suffering of animals? Well, that’s true enough. In any case, the main point of the piece is that a whole range of people are opposed to the snaring and shooting of bears, not just the usual suspects, those “touch-feely,” soft-hearted greenie-liberal wildlife conservationists but also hunters and big-game guides, wildlife biologists and managers, and Alaska Natives, at least some of whom are likely less touchy-feely and soft than old slackjaw. So there you go.
A person nicknamed “giver,” meanwhile, took me (and a friend I quote in the story) to task for not knowing that “Athabascan grizzly snaring around Cook Inlet was commonly practiced by the Dena’ina and is documented in the ethnographic literature.”
I’ll have to take giver’s word for that, because it’s true that I don’t know. But again, that’s beside the larger point I made. What I do note in my commentary is that some contemporary Alaska Natives have expressed their strong opposition to bear snaring, and this is notable. I also mention a friend whose Athabaskan (her spelling) grandfather hunted bears and treated the animals with respect, both before and after their death. There’s more, as you’ll see below. But how, I wonder, is this “trying to play the race card,” as giver claims? Again, the point was/is to show that a wide range of Alaskans oppose this practice; some are of Euro-American descent, others are indigenous peoples. And how is it “demeaning to a culture to see it used for a short-sighted agenda”? I think both Maxine Franklin and I are taking the long view in this. And I don’t think either one of us have demeaned our respective cultures. While “giver” certainly was justified in pointing out the Dena’ina’s practices (if true), the rest is bunk.
Enough said. Here’s my commentary. As always, I welcome, even invite, comments and criticisms. But I’d prefer they be relevant to what I’ve written. Cheers.
IT’S TIME TO RAISE OUR VOICES FOR BEAR, PROTEST SNARING
In an eloquent commentary that he wrote for the Anchorage Daily News (“Predator Control Demeans Us All,” Feb.4), bear hunter and big-game hunting guide Karl Braendel both sang the praises of the “mighty grizzly,” that “wilderness ‘boss of bosses,’” and bemoaned the fact that his peers in the guiding industry have largely remained silent since the state of Alaska expanded its predator-control policies to include the snaring and shooting of grizzly bears.
In a direct appeal to those peers, Braendel wrote, “I know how many of you feel about the big bear. I’ve heard grumbling here and there. Many of you guide in areas not slated for bear control—at least not yet—and maybe you are in a little bit of shock by what’s going down. You guys know better than most just how cool the grizzly is; the big bear deserves better, we deserve better. I urge you to step up and make a stand. Everyone who loves bears should make a stand. They are easily our most magnificent animals.”
Some might take issue with that last comment, since magnificence, like beauty, lies in the eyes of the beholder. But it seems to me that anyone who holds even the slightest amount of respect for “the big bear” would oppose the brutally inhumane tact that the Board of Game and Alaska Department of Fish and Game are now taking to “control” grizzly numbers in parts of Alaska. To date it’s only been an “experimental” program in Unit 16, across Cook Inlet from Alaska. But at its March meeting in Fairbanks, the BOG will decide whether to expand the snaring and killing of both grizzly and black bears to other parts of the state. (Though it doesn’t seem to have gained much notice, the BOG has already approved plans to conduct a brown and black bear snaring effort in Unit 19D, the McGrath area, beginning June 30.)
Because I don’t run in those circles, I can’t say what buzz, if any, Braendel’s commentary has generated within the big-game guiding community (he’s told me he hasn’t heard much from other guides). But I do know that others have independently expressed their opposition to snaring. Terry Holliday, president of Safari Club International’s Alaska chapter, told the L.A. Times, “I personally disagree with the snaring of the bear.
“If you want a lower bear population, they [state wildlife officials] can do it in different ways. It’s not humane. You shoot something, you kill it. If it’s properly done, it’s bang, and it’s over, with the animal not suffering. But when you go out and you start snaring animals and whoever’s doing it, say, the weather’s bad and you can’t get back for several days, here’s a bear sitting there in a snare with a bucket on its foot.”
And in written comments made to the BOG, Robert Fithian, a master guide and executive director of the Alaska Professional Hunters Association, expressed his group’s concerns that a proposed expansion of an existing predator-control program in Unit 19A (within the Kuskokwim River drainage) would add “brown bears of any age class [and] the snaring of brown bears.”
Because it’s a more charismatic animal and greater trophy, the inclusion of grizzlies in the bear-snaring effort has upped the ante, increased the opposition to the snaring and killing of bears, but I and many other Alaskans oppose the snaring of any bear, whether black or brown (grizzlies and brown bears of course being the same species).
Like Braendel, I’ve been surprised that Alaskans haven’t been more upset by the state’s latest and most extreme policy to kill off wolves and bears. It should be emphasized that never in our state’s history has the BOG allowed snaring to capture and kill bears. One reason for the lack of public outcry may be the media’s inattention. Though I’ve written a few pieces about the snaring of first, black bears, and more recently brown bears in that Unit 16 experiment, Alaska’s media only began to pay attention this winter, when a bunch of wildlife scientists (nearly 80 of them, all with Alaska connections) protested the practice—and were joined in that protest by former Gov. Tony Knowles.
I applaud both Knowles and biologist John Schoen for leading the current charge, along with a core group of wildlife activists. And now, at least some voices from the big-game guiding industry and the Alaska Native community as well. I was heartily encouraged to see a letter opposing bear snaring from Roy and Charlene Huhndorf, leaders in the Native community and, like Braendel, life-long Alaskans.
“We believe snaring is cruel and inhumane,” the Huhndorfs wrote, “causing hours and sometimes days of agony for the animal and should not be used by the state as a wildlife management tool. It is primitive and uncivilized. . . . The cruel destruction of Alaska’s predator population does not have a place in the 21st century.”
Another Alaska Native who’s taken a strong stand is Maxine Franklin, who bravely went before the BOG at its January meeting (not an easy thing to do for those who present different perspectives than the narrow-minded board). A friend of mine with Athabaskan and Yupik roots, Franklin has shared with me some writings about her Athabaskan grandfather, Peter Matthews, and the great respect he showed to bears when, on rare occasions, he hunted the animal. Besides using a deadfall trap that would kill the bear quickly—a necessary thing to do, to limit the animal’s suffering—Matthews would stage a funeral for the bear, to honor his or her spirit. (Franklin notes that she never met her grandfather, but learned these stories from her mother, Isabelle Pete, who at Maxine’s insistence told them over and over.)
Now an elder herself, Franklin says, “I believe we’re related to the other animals. . . . We can develop a mature attitude toward our relations. Sometimes we need to take their lives to continue living, but restraint should be the rule. They of course deserve to be treated well, in life and death. Some things should not be done.”
Snaring, for example.
Some folks, of course, prefer scientific analysis to indigenous beliefs. So it’s worthwhile adding that science too has found overwhelming evidence that we humans are “related to the other animals.” The perspective is slightly different, but that truth remains. And occasionally even scientists will agree that “some things should not be done.”
In January I wrote a story for the Anchorage Press, Alaska’s newest wildlife experiment: Snaring and shooting brown bears. In working on that essay, I spoke to several biologists who decried the snaring of bears, for both scientific and ethical reasons. Larry Aumiller, long-time manager at the McNeil River brown bear sanctuary, recalled, “I helped snare bears in the 1970s [for radio-tracking] and it produced images that I still find in my dreams. When snared, brown bears go absolutely crazy with fear and tear up everything within reach.”
Researchers, another biologist has informed me, go to great lengths to limit the suffering of bears captured in such a way. But what about people who only snare bears to kill them? How much care do they take?
Another biologist, who asked to remain anonymous, added, “Any snaring is cruel. Lethal snaring (neck snares say, or conibears, or drowning sets) are at least cruel for a shorter time until the animal dies (sometimes within minutes). The foot snaring means that a wild animal, used to roaming for hundreds of miles, is held against its will for hours at a time by a metal band like a handcuff. The band can and will abrade the tissue the more the animal fights. Imagine you are suddenly handcuffed by one wrist to a tree, possibly in a standing position, and never in your life have you ever been restrained. The psychological shock must be intense.”
So, what we have here are Alaskans representing many different backgrounds, cultures, and belief systems, all agreeing that bear snaring is cruel and inhumane. And, adding the perspectives of respected biologists, unscientific to boot.
As I’ve written elsewhere, Alaska’s predator-control system has been out of control for years and is only getting worse. Many of those who’ve battled the state’s increasingly extreme policies and methods have been worn down or grown cynical or they worry that Alaskans, generally, have grown weary of this battle. What’s the point, after all, when the state goes ahead and does what it wants?
The point, in part, is that it’s important to bear witness, even if change comes slowly (or at the present, not at all). Over the past nine years (since Frank Murkowski became governor, to be succeeded by Sarah Palin and now Sean Parnell), the BOG has taken a step-by-step approach to its predator control programs, as if to see how far it can go in its war against wolves and bears—and what else can you call it, when the aim is to remove ever-larger numbers of predators from Alaska’s wildlands in order to benefit human hunters? If there is no protest, no push back, things will only get worse. They are getting worse.
What can Alaskans do? For one thing, a petition is circulating, asking the BOG to end bear snaring. Go online and sign it. Write letters to the editor. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner would be a good target, since the BOG meets in Fairbanks in early March. Attend the meeting if you can, speak out in defense of bears. Let the governor know you’re disappointed, especially if you voted for him.
As Karl Braendel wrote, “There’s still time to affect the outcome.” But everyone opposed to the cruelty of bear snaring needs to speak out, not simply the usual suspects. It’s time to say, “Enough is enough, this has to stop.”
It’s time to raise a little hell.