COMPASS: Points of view from the community

Rudy Wittshirk / Anchorage Daily News / October 24, 2007

The soul has gone out of hunting in Alaska. The execution-style slayings of Katmai brown bears, caught on tape, clearly show Alaska’s most magnificent wildlife being rubbed out for convenient commercial exploitation (“Cameras show Katmai bear kills,” Oct. 6).

Bear hunters in the Katmai National Preserve cursed at a KTUU Channel 2 television crew recording their guided “hunt” — not because the hunt was illegal, but because the kills were so ridiculously easy they were humiliating. Now these hunters will have a hard time impressing friends back home with tales about their noble pursuit of the dangerous Alaska brown bear.

The TV crew is to be commended for standing up to these hunters in a remote area. Now everyone, including naive Alaskans, can see for themselves the legalized poaching that passes for “hunting” in Alaska.

The TV crew was accused of “interfering” with a hunt that was successful. That accusation went nowhere — but images of the pathetic bear hunt remain. In Katmai National Preserve, bear hunting is like shooting fish in a barrel — all it takes is an accommodating game management system and Alaska guides willing to cash in on human-habituated bears.

Just like any other commercial extraction of public resources, guided hunting on public lands should be open to public scrutiny. The public has a right to know how carelessly its wildlife resources are being extracted. Brown bears are top-of-the-line — imagine how carelessly the state manages the more lowly species.

Alaskans — hunters, guides, state Game Board members and Fish and Game personnel — are defensive about the Katmai incident. And with good reason — “legal” hunting in Alaska cannot stand the light of day. Other “legal” Alaska hunts are, if anything, even more unethical because motorized vehicles are used to chase down and shoot wild animals.

Hunters in Alaska have been elevated to mythical status in terms of subsistence, fair chase and general nobility of purpose and character. An opposite reality has long been evident. Science doesn’t matter. Subsistence doesn’t matter. Fair chase doesn’t matter. There is only one concern for the Alaska hunting establishment: Is it “legal?”

And that’s where Alaska politicians, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the Board of Game come in. Guides, hunters and the hunting industries lobby for liberal regulations; politicians legislate them into law; and the state implements them. Politicians determine the “science” of Alaska wildlife management — state wildlife biologists merely sell their scientific souls by giving their “professional” blessings to the incessant over-hunting.

The game management system itself is corrupt. Fish and Game answers to a state Legislature that has been demonstrably infested with corruption. That’s why the hunting establishment, the commercial hunting industries and the political hunting lobby have been able to steadily and legally “harvest” their way through our wildlife populations.

Many Alaskans extol the virtues of hunting as an ennobling and spiritual experience — a tradition of getting close to nature and all that nonsense. Some members of the hunting establishment, particularly bear hunters, glorify themselves as tooth-and-claw pioneers. However, game management in Alaska is based on emotional “into the wild” fantasies. We have “subsistence” hunts for the rich, “sport” hunts that resemble summary executions and “science” left over from the 19th century. The Katmai incident reveals just how tame and sleazy the “Alaska hunting experience” has become.

Rudy Wittshirk is an outdoorsman and photographer. He lives in Willow.