Hunter bear bait ban proposed for Alaska national preserves

FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 photo, a black bear checks out his surroundings in Granite Basin in Juneau, Alaska. The National Park Service is proposing a rule that would prohibit bear baiting in national preserves in Alaska, the latest in a dispute over what animal rights supporters call a cruel practice. The park service said Friday, Jan. 6, 2023 it is proposing a rule barring bear baiting in national preserves in Alaska. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Bear hunters in Alaska would no longer be able to use bait, such as pastries, dog food or bacon grease, under a proposed rule by the National Park Service on Friday 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 park service 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 conservation and animal rights groups.

But the judge did not set the rule aside, and noted the park service 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 park service “to initiate a rulemaking process to reconsider the factual, legal and policy conclusions in the 2020 Alaska Hunting and Trapping rule which authorized several controversial sport hunting practices.”

The park service 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A similar ban on bear baiting, enacted in 2015 during the Obama administration, was rescinded by the 2020 rule, the park service said.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.

Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, in a statement called the new proposal “a victory for Alaska’s iconic wildlife species.”