By Becky Bohrer
Juneau, Alaska — Bear hunters in Alaska would no longer be allowed to use bait, such as pastries, dog food, or bacon grease under a rule proposed Jan. 6 by the National Park Service that would prohibit bear baiting in national preserves in the state.
It’s the latest in a dispute over what animal rights supporters call a cruel practice. The NPS also says the new proposal would, in part, “lower the risk that bears will associate food at bait stations with humans and become conditioned to eating human-produced foods.”
The agency will be taking public comments on the proposal.
In September, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason found problems with a 2020 Trump administration-era rule that lifted restrictions previously in place on sport hunting and trapping in national preserves in Alaska, including bear baiting. The case was brought by environmental and animal-rights groups.
But the judge did not set the rule aside, and noted the NPS had indicated it was already in the process of reassessing the rule. She sent the matter back to the agency.
Appeals in the case are pending.
Peter Christian, a spokesperson with the Alaska region for the National Park Service, said the assistant secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks last February directed the NPS “to initiate a rule-making process to reconsider the factual, legal, and policy conclusions in the 2020 Alaska Hunting and Trapping rule that authorized several controversial sport-hunting practices.”
The NPS is pursuing the new proposal “due to legal and policy concerns regarding bear-baiting implications for public safety. Bears that become habituated to non-natural foods used as bait pose a safety hazard to the public,” he said by email.
A similar ban on bear baiting, enacted in 2015 during the Obama administration, was rescinded by the 2020 rule, the NPS said.
According to the agency, the proposed new rule also would reinstate prohibitions that had been in place under the 2015 rule “on methods of harvest that are not compatible with generally accepted notions of ‘sport’ hunting.”
The 2020 rule removed restrictions on such things as harvesting bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season; taking swimming caribou; and using dogs to hunt black bears, the agency said.