Updated on June 9, 2017 at 9:30 PMPosted on June 9, 2017 at 12:12 PM
HAZLET — About 36 animal rights advocates lined the north bound side of Route 36 at Poole Avenue in Hazlet Thursday evening to protest the death of a black bear on Memorial Day weekend.
Car horns blared in support of the group, while others jeered. A passerby yelled, “Go home.” One protester’s response: We’re in New Jersey, this is our home.
The bear was killed by Union Beach police on May 28, after a four-hour stakeout, and after police were denied assistance from the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife, police have said.
Lauretta Iavarone, a local business owner from Red Bank, said her conscience motivated her to attend the protest. She said the killing of the bear was a real shame.
“Even though I do understand the parameters, it’s very sad and it makes you sad,” Iavarone said.
Janine Motta, programs director at the Animal Protection League of New Jersey, said they organized a protest to raise awareness about bear populations being relocated and growing in new areas, and to tell people that the state isn’t providing tools to mitigate this situation.
“This really has to be exposed and has to be talked about more,” Motta said.
Motta said the local police department has told her the department is very responsive and open to having a conversation about bear safety education programs and using nonlethal options in the future.
She said state officials refused to tranquilize the bear, because the incident was reported at night. It was also on Sunday.
This particular bear was obviously part of the state’s relocation effort, because it was registered in Stillwater, which is too great a distance for a bear to travel undetected and without incident, Motta said.
Susan M. Kearney, a member of Bear Education and Resource who helped organize Thursday’s event, said the overall response from the Union Beach community has been very positive.
“I think it was a great turnout. It’s more people than we expected,” Kearney said.
The bear was first spotted on May 27 near Edmunds Avenue.
Around 10 p.m. that day, Union Beach police sent a warning to local residents to stay away from the animal. Then police contacted state Fish & Wildlife for assistance — requesting the state tranquilize and relocate the bear. Fish & Wildlife denied the local request saying, “this is outside of our protocol,” according to a police department Facebook post.
The statement further said the state department provided “rudimentary” instructions on how to handle the situation, which included: Warn homeowners and pedestrians about the situation, turn emergency lights away from the animal and follow its movements from a safe distance.
The local officers followed these suggestion “to the letter,” the police wrote on Facebook.
After hours of monitoring the bear from a safe distance, the animal headed toward Florence Avenue, a busy area inundated with residents and weekend traffic.
The police department post further said the decision to put the bear down “was not made lightly. However, the safety of residents and their families must always take top priority.”
Another large bear was spotted in Middletown on Friday, May 26, but it’s unclear whether it was the same animal.
Pitkin County Landfill’s enticing environment for black bears might have proved too enticing for a tandem of Indiana hunters.
Dan Roe and his son Alex are due in Pitkin County District Court on June 19 to face charges associated with what authorities say was the illegal killing of a black bear at the landfill, a popular feeding spot for area bruins.
Details are limited on what actually transpired at the landfill Sept. 13, the day the two allegedly killed the bear. The agency that ticketed the two, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, did not have information readily available Tuesday.
Both Roes face charges of willful destruction of big game, a Class 5 felony, and misdemeanor counts of failure to dress or care for wildlife, illegal possession of wildlife and hunting on private property. The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office filed the charges May 9.
In a statement issued to local media Tuesday, the District Attorney’s Office said: “The charges are based upon allegations that the accused persons entered private lands, an area near the Pitkin County Landfill, in order to hunt for a bear. Upon killing a black bear on private lands, the accused persons are alleged to have intentionally abandoned the bear’s carcass and edible portions of it, keeping only the bear’s hide and head.”
The landfill’s assistant solid waste manager, Jed Miller, said Tuesday the bear’s carcass was found on the property.
“Basically, they snuck in at night, shot the bear, skinned the bear and left the bear covered up with trash,” Miller said.
Colorado law requires hunters who kill bears to present the animal’s pelt and carcass to a parks and wildlife official within five days of the kill.
The bear was fully grown, Miller said, noting Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials contacted the landfill after “they became suspicious of these gentlemen’s story. They only had the bear skin versus the whole carcass. They found that very fishy and started their investigation.”
Bear hunting is allowed in Colorado in September, October and November with various restrictions enforced in different parts of the state. Rifles, muzzleloaders and archery is permitted among license holders.
The Roes have yet to make a court appearance or enter a plea, said their attorney, Richard Nedlin of Aspen.
“All I can tell you is that these are two people who have been hunting for a long time, and they have no criminal history, from what I know,” Nedlin said. “This was a special father-and-son trip, and being hunters, they would never intentionally violate that law or be on property on which they didn’t know they were not allowed to be on or didn’t have permission to be on.”
Deputy District Attorney Sarah Oszczakiewicz said the near eight-month gap between the date of the alleged offense and the filing of charges was because “that’s how long it took to connect all the dots and to be able to allow the investigation to unfold.”
The landfill, located 9 miles west of Aspen off Highway 82, has become a well-visited feeding ground for black bears.
In 2012, a Pitkin County Landfill employee was terminated for killing a bear on the facility’s property, using a bow and arrow. The county also at one time considered opening the landfill to bear hunting, but that idea failed to gain traction.
In this May 2009 photo, a grizzly bear is seen in Yellowstone National Park near Mammoth, Wyoming.
A black-bear hunter reportedly killed a large grizzly bear in the hills 5 miles northeast of Missoula on May 16, but federal wildlife officials have released few details about the incident.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with its partners at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, is actively investigating the self-reported killing of a grizzly bear by a black bear hunter in the Johnson Creek drainage near Bonner,” FWS spokesman Ryan Moehring wrote in a press release on Tuesday.
“This is an active, ongoing investigation and the Service will share more information with the public when the circumstances of the case permit.”
That wasn’t much comfort to Andy Lennox, who lives at the base of Johnson Creek and heard about the incident second-hand.
“That’s right behind my house,” said Lennox, who’s lived along the Blackfoot River a mile north of Bonner for 30 years. “And this spring bear hunt is crazy anyway. Lots of hunters can’t tell difference between bears. This could be female with cubs, in which case they just killed two, three or four bears. This was almost two weeks ago, and the Fish and Wildlife Service never came by to let me know what’s going on. It’s like it’s some kind of big secret. That’s weird as hell.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Moehring said it was U.S. Department of Justice policy not to comment on ongoing investigations so as not to compromise them.
“Grizzly bears are a listed species (protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act), so there’s no surprise there’s federal involvement in a grizzly shooting,” Moehring said. “Whenever there’s been an incident like this, the Fish and Wildlife Service has an active role to play.”
Montana’s spring black-bear hunting season started on April 15 and closes in the Missoula area on June 15. Hunters must pass a test certifying they can tell the difference between black and grizzly bears in order to purchase a hunting license.
About 1,000 grizzly bears live in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem that extends from the Rattlesnake Wilderness north of Missoula to the northern border of Glacier National Park. While wildlife researchers have occasionally tracked grizzlies traveling around the fringe of the Missoula Valley, the big bears have rarely been sighted south of the Mission Mountains or Bob Marshall wilderness areas.
A hunting practice banned by Washington voters two decades ago continues to this day. Hound hunters are used to protect stands of commercial timber from the destructive habits of black bears. But a year-long KING 5 investigation shows the bears, killed for tree damage, may not be causing any problems whatsoever.
Hunting bears with dogs, outlawed in 1996 by the voter-approved Initiative 655, happens every spring in Washington. Animal rights advocates who backed I-655 decried the practice as cruel and unsportsmanlike. Hounds chase bears over long distances, exhausting them and allowing hunters to zero in for a final kill. Dogs are then rewarded by chewing on the bear. Bears are typically already dead or near dying.
Hunting bears with dogs is perfectly legal under an exception built into I-655. The provision in the law allows hound hunting to continue for the protection of property, but critics and experts say the legal loophole is being abused by the state and timber farmers against the letter and spirit of the law.
The official codification of I-655 – RCW 77.15.245 – includes the following allowance: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to prohibit the killing of black bear, cougar, bobcat, or lynx with the aid of a dog or dogs by employees or agents of county, state, or federal agencies while acting in their official capacities for the purpose of protecting livestock, domestic animals, private property, or the public safety. A dog or dogs may be used by the owner or tenant of real property consistent with a permit issued and conditioned by the director.”
The controversy centers on an interpretation of what it means to to protect private property. It’s pitting the Washington Department of Wildlife against its own staff and the backers of I-655.
“I think it’s disgusting and it’s frankly quite surprising to me that the Department of Fish and Wildlife would be so open violating a state initiative that the people of this state resoundingly approved,” said Lisa Wathne, who spearheaded the I-655 campaign 20 years ago while working for PAWS. Today, she is the Captive Wildlife Specialist for The Humane Society. Her group’s efforts to ban recreational hound hunting in Washington won with 63 percent of the vote.
Wathne was comfortable with the loophole in I-655 that allowed hound hunting to protect property by removing problem animals.
“They were to be very specific and for specific animals, not for a wholesale thinning of a population by any means,” she said.
In the case of bears, the allowance is used every spring on timber farms. Bears are hungry when they come out of hibernation, and trees offer a quick, high-calorie snack thanks to syrup underneath the bark. When the bears peel the bark, though, they can damage or even kill trees. Trees between the age of 12 and 25 years old are the most vulnerable. The Washington Forest Protection Association (WFPA) blames bears for millions of dollars in damage every year.
Timber farmers argue they need to protect their trees from bears that are damaging their product. But KING 5 found the springtime bear hunts on timber farms are not focused on targeting problem bears. Hundreds of internal staff emails and documents obtained by KING 5 show that the program centers on reducing the overall number of bears in vulnerable tree stands, not – as state law requires – removing specific bears known to be damaging trees.
A man who has hunted for the Bear Timber Depredation Management Program (BTDM) for decades said the program is being abused, at the expense of non-offending bears. He describes a system that has evolved into an elite hunting club rather than a damage-control program. It didn’t start that way, he says. He’s noticed a trend that’s taken the program away from its original intent.
“The idea was to take the problem bear and there was no pressure on you to get out there and kill as much as they are now,” the man said. He asked us not to disclose his identity for fear of retaliation against his family and his dogs.
For decades the man has used his dogs to hunt bears, helping kill hundreds of them. But he said he’s concerned that both large industrial timber foresters and small forest landowners are no longer concerned with targeting problem bears. They just want to kill bears, he says, and WDFW enables it while clouding the hunts in secrecy.
In recent years, declared kills on timber farms have resulted in the reported death of about 100 bears. Other years, the number of bears removed has hovered around 200. But a year-long KING 5 investigation concludes those official tallies could be considerably inaccurate, as the bear hunts on private lands have historically occurred with little oversight. Even the state’s wildlife enforcement officers say the system is so broken that there’s little they can do to enforce hunting rules.
This hunter says he’s never once crossed paths with wildlife police.
“The old saying is, if you don’t see it, you don’t have to think about it,” he said. “It’s just like, OK, it’s all-out war guys.”
When foresters find one damaged tree, WDFW grants a permit to kill two bears. Permits are also granted on what’s called “historical damage” from the previous year. That means a forester can get a renewed permit to kill bears the year after they find fresh damage. They do not have to prove bears are causing any new issues. It doesn’t matter if several bears were already killed for the damage in the year prior.
Stacks of emails KING 5 obtained through public disclosure show state employees are also alarmed about the program. In a late 2016 internal email, a WDFW biologist wrote about timber giant Weyerhaeuser, “They are viewing the bear damage program as a means to suppress the overall bear population and therefore, reduce damage. I get why, as a timber company, they would want to do that but that is not the way this program was designed.”
In another 2016 staff report, a wildlife specialist argues Weyerhaeuser is creating a large hunting area. Several complaints KING 5 uncovered show that timber companies stack permits beside each other to maximize land areas for the hunt. The wildlife specialist who wrote the report says it goes against the program’s intent “to avoid killing more bears than necessary.”
AWDFWbiologist wrote in one email dated November 7, 2016: “It seems like the system in place is just being manipulated by those who want to be able to run their dogs and to some extent by timber owners/individual foresters who are facilitating it…it seems like they don’t even want the bears, just the chance to pursue them.”
Another WDFW biologist wrote in a 2014 email, “Only one-quarter of bears killed have bark in their stomach.” An additional 2016 internal report to WDFW management says the system is “purposely being abused,” but staff are discouraged from revoking privileges.
The hunter we interviewed believes the program has turned into a secret fraternity where power and politics provide an exclusive bear hunting season – the only one left in Washington for hunters who want to use dogs. Timber farms benefit by reducing the potential for damaged trees, he says, while hunters get to run their hounds. They’re chosen by the timber companies and approved by Georg Ziegltrum, the longtime head of WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program.
“If given opportunity they all girdle trees and they all are ‘problem’ bears in damage areas,” Ziegltrum said.
For Ziegltrum, every bear has the potential to peel.
“Intraspecific stress (too many bears in one given area) may have more to do with timber damage than one ‘guilty’ ingenious bark peeler,” he said. “I-655 is doing exactly what it is supposed to do. The WDFW understands our problem and is closely and effectively working with our industry. Regulations for bear removal are plentiful and heavy. All damage is witnessed and approved by WDFW. I have a 100 percent compliance record with the agency for years and I’m proud of it.”
KING 5 learned that foresters often tell hunters not to discuss the hunt, for fear of public outrage.
“Some of the foresters want you to kill, kill, kill – no matter what. Even the foresters have kind of a game between ‘em to who gets the trophy every year for the most bear killed,” the hunter said. “Just like one forester said, ‘All I want to know is about the first bear and the last bear. In between, I don’t care.’”
Internal WDFW emails and reports reveal that kill permits are given to timber farms before wildlife specialists verify damage. A program administrator wrote in a 2014 email, “Timber companies have put pressure on the program to issue first, then verify.” Another staffer wrote in 2015, “Often times the permit has been filled before the Conflict Specialist has gone out to the site to even verify.” In another 2015 email, a wildlife specialist said, “I have not been able to verify the preliminary damage prior to them taking two bear.”
Sources told KING 5 that procedures like this, aimed at speeding up the permitting process, are unique to the bear damage program even though elk damage, for instance, is far more common statewide. Reports also show that, sometimes, staff arrive to alleged damage sites only to find “no significant damage at all.” But it’s too late, as bears authorized for kill might already be dead.
One state biologist wrote in a 2016 email, “This is not the way this program was designed.”
WHY BEARS ARE TARGETED
For Ken Miller, the damage is anything but insignificant.
“Brown spots all over the hillside and those were dead trees,” he said while pointing toward a ridgeline in Oakville, southwest of Olympia.
Miller is a small forest landowner, which means he farms far less land than an industrial company like Weyerhaeuser. His tree farm borders the Capitol State Forest near Olympia, which is prime bear habitat. He took us on a long and bumpy drive to see his trees, though land he says foresters protect from development. He thinks his profession is often the object of unfair negativity, criticized for killing trees and sometimes the wildlife that hurts profit. He argues, more often than not, bears benefit from tree farming.
“It really is cool to be a tree farm,” he said. “We’re doing great stuff for the environment.”
Miller and his wife saw their farm as an investment in their retirement or grandchildren’s education. The couple and their son planted 18,000 trees by hand in three months. They each planted 500 a day.
“I made bags we wore around our waist,” said Ken’s wife, Bonnie. “We were really proud of ourselves. We had some nice trees. Then all of a sudden, we found something.”
What they found alarmed them – dozens of trees damaged by bears.
“I was desperate, in a panic, because our financial wherewithal for our retirement years was on the line,” Ken said. “That’s big money. That’s like someone stealing money out of your 401(k).”
Ken admitted that he was so desperate that he asked a hunter to kill bears in secret. He says that was 15 years ago, and he hasn’t broken any rules since.
“Maybe I’m not totally proud of it, but I would do it again if I was in that same situation and that was the only option I had to protect my property,” Ken said.
He said there are too many bears for available habitat, and he believes he is drowning in a permitting process that prevents him from killing bears fast enough to protect his trees. For Miller, small forest landowners suffer unduly from bear damage and need more help from the state, given that a few damaged trees represent a much greater percentage of lost investment compared to industrial farms.
If the program is about population control as critics argue it is, he says, WDFW is failing.
If there were fewer bears, and the state eased the path toward removing them, Miller believes he would have fewer problems.
Ninety-percent of the damage is typically reported in Regions 5 and 6, which includes Pierce, Cowlitz, Lewis, Wahkiakum and Clark Counties. The bear harvest during timber hunts tends to be about 35 percent of the bears harvested in those regions during the general season. WDFW does not include the timber hunt harvests in the information shared with the public on its website.
“I think we under harvest bears, probably, in this state as a whole,” said WDFW Game Division Manger Anis Aoude.
In an interview that lasted two hours, KING 5 asked Aoude and his WDFW colleague, Stephanie Simek, about the Bear Timber Depredation Management Program. A couple years ago, the program’s oversight was handed from Enforcement to the Wildlife Program. Aoude and Simek created a subcommittee comprised of biologists, conflict specialists, enforcement officers, and foresters in order to forge new paths toward better management.
It was the moment when many staffers hoped chronic abuses of the program would finally see change, internal sources told KING 5. Today, that hope has turned into increased frustration. As one employee wrote in a November 2016 email, “Wow, I am blown away that the same issues keep occurring over and over with absolutely no consequences. It seems absolutely crazy that we have taken the time to careful (sic) develop all of these rules and they aren’t being followed.”
“We’re trying to find a way where folks can still grow timber and harvest it and bears can still be on the landscape,” Aoude said. “We hear the criticism. We take it to heart. We are working to improve things.”
For Aoude, any bear that lives near vulnerable trees is a potential problem.
“You’re never going to know what bears are peeling and what bears are not,” he said.
He pointed to efforts at tightening restrictions like reducing the hunt zone from a 5-mile radius to a 3-mile radius. That way, he and Simek said, hunters don’t kill bears far away from damage.
In an email Simek sent on April 15, 2015, she told several foresters, “Remember that the presence of a bear on your property does not mean it has or will cause any damage.”
And yet, Simek and Aoude support allowing hunters to use hounds for killing bears before damage ever occurs. When trees are between 15 and 30 years old, they are most susceptible to bear peeling. Aoude says it makes for efficient property protection to reduce the number of bears in timber stands of that age class.
“Once the damage has occurred, you’re almost too late,” he said. “So if you had damage the year before, you can almost guarantee you’ll have damage the year after. Because not only are those trees peeled and could be peeled further, there are trees next to them that are the same age.”
The hound hunting ban allowed bear populations to grow problematically and hurt the state’s ability to manage the carnivores, Aoude said.
“It’s unfortunate that the tool was removed by legislation, because it is one of the most effective ways to pursue and harvest bears,” he said.
Aoude defended the practice of killing two bears per permit as well, even if no fresh damage was found, by calling it an efficient way to give good customer service.
“And at this point, bears are doing fine in the state. Their populations are doing just fine and there’s really no need for us to be concerned with individual woodlots,” he said.
As for allegations the system is abused by foresters, Simek says, it’s an unfair characterization.
“I think it’s an overgeneralization. People say what they want to say and what they want to believe,” Simek said.
Still, people like Wathne and others are concerned WDFW’s approach violates the law. That’s because they believe the spirit of I-655 only allowed for hound hunting when animals are actively causing damage. They believe voters wanted to ban the practice for population control, and allow for it only when an animal proves it’s a problem.
About 40 hunters participate in the program annually, but the vast majority of bears are taken by a few dozen. By comparison in the same regions, the recreational bear season sees about 3,500 hunters buying licenses to harvest bears later in the year. Their success rate is far lower than the hound hunters.
If someone wants to know how many bears are killed on tree farms, though, it’s not so easy to find. WDFW does not include the data on its website with other bears harvested in general seasons.
That’s why KING 5 filed a request for the number of bears killed each year since 2004. Our research shows, in some years, the state’s authorized the killing of as many as 334 bears for timber damage alone. That was in 2011. It was the highest number of permits granted in the records we obtained. The total amount of bears harvested on the 2011 permits was 182, with 66 females and 116 males killed. The lowest year for permits written was 2016, with 162 bears authorized for removal. Of the total allowed, 86 were reported killed; 27 were females and 59 were males.
Without exception, male bears are killed far more often than females. Typically, hunters kill nearly double the amount of male bears as female bears. For WDFW bear expert, Rich Beausoleil, that’s concerning since data shows the offending bears are more often hungry females, many with new cubs. Male bears, however, may be targeted for their size.
“What we’re finding from the removal statistics that are coming in is that males are being targeted. Females are dying too, but more males than females. That makes us wonder, are we targeting the right bear?” he said.
Beausoleil said the state has used hunter data to estimate the bear population until recently. Hunters are supposed to turn in a tooth from the bear for research, but they only do that 20 percent of the time. That’s why Beausoleil’s recent research project is showing that the long-held belief Washington has 35,000 bears is wrong. He estimates the number is much closer to 20,000. The average bear has an annual survival rate of about 80-90 percent, but on timber farms, that number drops to 60 percent.
Though the number of bears killed for causing timber damage typically totals only 10 percent of the bears killed every year statewide, Beausoleil says the number is much higher when considered from a more localized perspective.
“We could see harvest rates at 40 percent, and that’s higher than we’d like to see. That can cause a population decline, if that’s not what we want to do as an agency,” he said. “So, it’s really important not to look at it on a washed-out statewide view or even on a regional view, but to zoom and see what’s going on, because this could be your backyard, and you might have an interest in knowing the bears are OK where you live.”
Timber farms are invaluable assets for protecting wildlife in the state, Beausoleil says. That’s why he hopes collaboration with foresters and better program management will provide opportunity for change.
“These lands that private timber provide, provide habitat in a big way. There’s a lot of land out there that’s helping wildlife,” he said.
KING 5 told former state legislator Hans Dunshee about its investigation of the bear depredation program. Dunshee, a Democrat from Snohomish, served as the 44th District state representative for two decades and was a fierce supporter of I-655 and opposed several attempts to repeal it.
“You’re not authorized by the will of the people to just exterminate all bears in an area, because they might be a problem,” he said. “This program violates the initiative because it focuses on population. It assumes population is a problem not a problem animal.”
Dunshee believes the state’s abusing its power and violating voter trust, all while setting a bad example.
“We’re all supposed to follow the law. If government doesn’t follow the law, then citizens say, ‘We don’t have to,’” he said. “The department is destroying the trust of everybody, and it’s creating lawlessness.”
And that’s exactly what we found WDFW staff are concerned about, as well.
“I’ve had more than one officer tell me, ‘I’m not going to work these anymore,’” said retired WDFW Captain Murray Schlenker.
Schlenker retired from WDFW police last year. He calls the rules confusing and inconsistent.
“You can go out and knock yourself out as a law enforcement officer, but cases aren’t going to get anywhere,” he said.
Our investigation found hunters caught breaking the rules aren’t held accountable. They’re almost always allowed to keep on hunting. In a 2014 case involving one of the program’s most prolific hunters, an enforcement officer recommended the state ban an offending hunter from killing bears on timber farms.
Here’s what happened: Hunters get one yellow tag per bear they’re allowed to kill. That tag is supposed to be immediately clipped onto the bear’s ear so that it cannot be reused, a policy aimed at preventing hunters from taking more bears than allowed. This particular hunter was located nearly four miles from the kill site, the bear gutted and packed in a box used to transport dogs. But the hunter had the tags in his pocket.
Though the officer who filed the case told management the hunter should not be allowed to hunt on timber permits any longer, WDFW management did nothing. That hunter continues to be one of the most active in the program
KING 5 obtained an email written by the enforcement officer at the time. He complained, “My frustration level is at an extreme,” because hunters “pick and choose” what rules to follow.
“That level of frustration is there for them and they don’t want to try good faith, conscientious effort and have it thrown back at them. That’s very demoralizing from an employee standpoint,” Schelnker said.
“It’s becoming harder to get good people out there, but we still have the good people: the good hound hunters, the ethical hound hunters, the people who play by the rules. We still have them working for us,” Ziegltrum said.
Ziegltrum, director of WFPA’s Animal Damage Control Program, is the one who gives final approval or denial of all hunters allowed on the BTDM permits. Aoude said that if hunters are legally allowed to harvest bears in Washington, WDFW has no power to deny their participation in the program. Ziegltrum does that.
“There is a very strong incentive for these people to stay in line,” he said. “They recognize we are the only game in town.”
As for the hunter caught with tags in his pockets, Ziegltrum says it was an honest mistake.
“This guy is still hunting, because we explained the situation to the state agency, and this young gentleman did not get himself into trouble,” he said.
Last year, WDFW Wildlife Program Manager Sandra Jonker wrote a letter of commendation to honor a hound hunter for exceptional efforts. “In particular I want to thank you and your hunting party for your help over the years…for ethically responsible hunting behavior,” she wrote.
It belongs to the same hunter who said the timber hunts are so mismanaged that ethical hunters are being forced out, leaving behind those willing to bend the rules.
“And, the way the foresters think, is that they will have to do it our way because we’re the biggest employers in the state,” he said.
He’s not against hound hunting. He thinks dogs, with their keen sense of smell, are the best way to target problem bears. But dogs only do what their handler wants, and he says too often, foresters and hunters just want blood.
“These guys don’t have no respect for wildlife. The more they get, they think the better hunter they are,” he said.
Dunshee believes WDFW’s management of the BTDM program could set the agency back in its efforts to unite culturally and politically disparate groups in Washington, often divided over wildlife.
“I think it destroys the trust in the agency. The agency is doing good things on wolves and cougars. I think this destroys the good will that’s been built between rural communities and animal welfare advocates,” Dunshee said. “I think the legislature should do an investigation. The evidence you have should be laid out for the public to see. I think it ought to be dealt with and if there are people in the upper management who have been burying this story, I think they ought to be held accountable.”
For Wathne, it’s criminal. She believes WDFW has turned a problem bear into a hunting season. She calls that poaching.
“And the department is enabling it. They are putting their stamp of approval on it apparently. You bet it’s poaching. It’s a violation of the law,” she said. “The initiative itself is very clear. So, perhaps it’s time to go to the Governor.”
In a staff report filed by a WDFW animal conflict specialist concern is voiced over the long-term effects of the timber farm hunts. In some Game Management Units, between a quarter and a third of the bears are killed because of tree damage. The report said, “During a conference call it was brought up that conflict staff in Region 5 does not support killing 2 bears per permit because we do not know the population effects. That statement was countered with the argument that if we don’t know the populations (sic) effects then why not allows (sic) two bears per permit? Is this consistent with this agency’s mission?”
In other documents KING 5 obtained, employees expressed concern that the bear hunts on timber farms reduce the available bears for harvest during recreational seasons, when hunters are paying for licenses that support the budget of WDFW.
“I think that as an agency we should be concerned with the fact that in the south Cascades in 2015 we had a recreational bear harvest of 99, but in 2016 we had a depredation harvest of 37. That is 27 percent of the recreational harvest, and we are talking about 3,600 recreational bear hunters versus a handful of hound hunters. The success rate for recreational hunters was 2.7 percent. I can’t help but wonder if taking these bears through the depredation hunt it isn’t taking away an opportunity from thousands of other recreational hunters who are purchasing a bear tag,” a WDFW biologist wrote in 2016.
Another staffer wrote in the same thread, “the system in place is just being manipulated.”
“We are not providing people with recreational opportunity,” Ziegltrum said.
Wathne met with Ziegltrum in the 1990s to discuss I-655. She met with many stakeholders as they molded the allowance for hound hunting to reduce tree damage. She believes the intention of the law was clear, not just for her but for WDFW and the timber industry. There should be no misunderstanding, she says, the loophole was never meant to cull bear populations.
“And what does it say to the people of Washington state?” Wathne said. “The Department of Fish and Wildlife doesn’t give a damn about what you voted for or about the bears of this state.”
Watch the TV version of this story with closed captioning: Part 1 | Part 2
A conversation with Alison Morrow on outlawed bear hunting
Wednesday 5 October 2016 11.08 EDTLast modified on Thursday 6 October 2016 05.14 EDT
Romania has banned all trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats in a surprise decision that gives Europe’s largest population of large carnivores a reprieve from its most severe and immediate threat.
The move on Tuesday reverses a trend which has seen the number of large carnivores being shot by hunters grow year on year since Romania’s accession into the European Union in 2007. In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months.
Over the last decade, hunting has grown into a multimillion-euro industry in Romania, with hunters from all over the world paying up to €10,000 (£8,800) to claim a ‘trophy’ – hunting parlance for the carcass of a hunted animal – from the Carpathian mountains.
The government has claimed that in order to exist, the industry relies on a loophole in European law which allows for the culling of wild animals that have been proven to be a danger to humans. Under the habitats directive, all large carnivores are protected in European Union member states, yet the state can order the killing of specific animals if shown to have attacked a person or damaged private property.
“Hunting for money was already illegal, but it was given a green light anyway,” environment minster, Cristiana Pasca-Palmer, told the Guardian. ‘The damages [clause in the habitats directive] acted as a cover for trophy hunting.”
Each year, hundreds of hunting associations across the country would submit two numbers; the total population of each large carnivore species, and the total number which they believed to be likely to cause damages. The second number would then act as a basis for a government-issued hunting quota for each species. These quotas were then carved up between hunting companies and sold as hunting rights to the public.
“This method raised some questions,” says Pasca-Palmer. “How can hunting associations count how many animals are causing damages a priori – before the damages have happened? By introducing the ban, what we are doing is simply putting things back on the right track, as the habitats directive originally intended.”
Wildlife NGOs claim that the methodology also tended to dramatically overestimate the populations of large carnivores. The official figure for the number of bears in Romania is over 6,000, and for wolves is 4,000. Yet with hundreds of hunting associations each responsible for monitoring a small area of land, and animals prone to wandering, it is understood that individual animals were often counted multiple times, potentially pushing the total population statistics up by thousands.
Announced late on Tuesday evening, the ban is expected to divide Romania’s population, pitching rural and urban dwellers against each other. The government’s decision has strong support in the larger cities, which have seen a growing movement against hunting in recent months. But in much of Romania’s remote countryside large carnivores are a daily threat to villagers and a persistent nuisance to livestock farmers, and many see hunting as the only solution.
Csaba Domokos, a bear specialist with wildlife protection NGO Milvus group, is convinced that the success or failure of the hunting ban rides on the government’s ability to address the rural population’s fears.
“Damages caused by large carnivores are a very real concern in the countryside,” he said. “The system up until now did not work; hunting does not reduce conflicts between carnivores and humans; in fact many studies show that with wolves and large cats, it can actually increase the problem.
“But the rural population believe that hunting is the answer, and unless they can be convinced otherwise, people may well start to take the problem into their own hands. The ban is a great step, but we don’t want hunting to be replaced by poaching.”
Domokos points out that hunters also have a vested interested in the protection of their quarry. “To some extent, hunting acts as a financial incentive for wildlife management, from preventing poaching to conserving habitats. There is some concern that once you take that away, the government will not invest enough to replace it.”
The government’s response is to take management into its own hands. A special unit is to be set up within the paramilitary police force that will assess any reports of damages by large carnivores and deal with the culprit animal directly. The ministry of environment have discussed the possibility of relocating the target animals abroad to countries interested in ‘rewilding’.
The ban comes amid a growing push for the protection of Romania’s wild mountains that has seen anti-corruption officers convict dozens of foresters, hunters and local officials in recent years.
Gabriel Paun, an activist and conservationist behind a petition that collected 11,000 signatures in the weeks before the hunting ban, sees the government’s decision as a step towards a safer future for Europe’s wild spaces: “The Carpathian mountains are home to more biodiversity than anywhere else in Europe, but for too long they have been ruthlessly exploited for forestry and hunting. Let’s hope the government’s decision is a sign of things to come.”
Grizzly bears venturing from dens in search of food this spring will face landscapes dominated by mines, roads, pipelines, clearcuts and ever-expanding towns and cities. As in years past, they will also face the possibility of painful death at the hands of trophy hunters.
B.C.’s spring bear hunt just opened. Hunters are fanning out across the province’s mountains, grasslands, forests and coastline, armed with rifles and the desire to bag a grizzly bear, just to put its head on a wall or its pelt on the floor as a “trophy.”
According to B.C. government statistics, they will kill about 300 of these majestic animals by the end of the spring and fall hunts. If this year follows previous patterns, about 30 per cent of the slaughter will be females, the reproductive engines of grizzly populations.
Many grizzlies will likely be killed within B.C.’s renowned provincial parks and protected areas, where trophy hunting is legal. Government records obtained by the David Suzuki Foundation in 2008 show trophy hunters have shot dozens of grizzlies in places we would expect wildlife to be protected. We don’t know the exact number of bears killed in parks since 2008 because, in contravention of a B.C.’s privacy commissioner’s ruling, the government refuses to disclose recent spatial data showing where bears have been killed.
Much of this killing has occurred in northern wilderness parks, such as Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park and Tatshenshini-Alsek Wilderness Park. Tatshenshini-Alsek Park forms a massive trans-boundary conservation zone with federal protected areas in the Yukon and Alaska. Trophy hunting is prohibited in most U.S. national parks and all Canadian national parks.
Wild animals don’t heed political boundaries. Wide-ranging species like grizzlies move in and out of neighbouring jurisdictions. If a bear in Montana wanders a few kilometres north in search of a mate, it goes from being protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act to being a possible target in B.C.
But now, in response to intense pressure from the trophy hunting industry, the U.S. administration wants to strip grizzly bears of federal protection. U.S. President Donald Trump also recently signed into law rules allowing trophy hunters to target grizzly bears around bait stations and from aircraft and to kill mothers and their cubs in Alaska’s national wildlife refuges, where they’ve been protected from these unethical hunting practices.
Grizzly bears face an ominous political climate under the Trump administration, along with growing human threats across their range, from trophy hunting to habitat destruction, precipitous declines in food sources like salmon and whitebark pine nuts and climate change impacts.
In parts of Canada, mainly in sparsely populated areas of northern B.C. and the territories, grizzly bear numbers are stable. But in the Interior and southern B.C. and Alberta, grizzlies have been relegated to a ragged patchwork of small, isolated and threatened habitats — a vestige of the forests and grasslands they once dominated. The B.C. government has ended grizzly hunting among highly threatened sub-populations in the Interior and southern parts of B.C. And, in response to pressure from local First Nations, it has promised to do the same in the Great Bear Rainforest. But the slaughter of B.C.’s great bears continues everywhere else.
That this year’s spring hunt coincides with a B.C. election could bring hope for grizzlies, possibly catalyzing the first change in government wildlife policy in close to two decades. The May 9 election will give B.C. residents the opportunity to ask candidates if they will end the grizzly hunt if elected. So far, the B.C. NDP and Green Party say they would ban grizzly trophy hunting (but allow grizzly hunting for food), whereas the B.C. Liberals continue to defend and promote the trophy hunt as “well-managed,” despite scientific evidence to the contrary.
The fate of B.C.’s grizzlies is too important to be a partisan issue. All politicians should support protection. Rough-and-tumble politics this election season might finally end B.C.’s cruel and unsustainable grizzly bear trophy hunt. It’s time to stop this grisly business.
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Faisal Moola is the David Suzuki Foundation’s director-general for Ontario and Northern Canada and an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto and York University.
A brown colored black bear. Bears and other carnivores and scavengers in Alaska commonly carry the trichinella roundworm parasite, which can be transmitted to people who eat undercooked meat. Richard Housineaux photo.
Aparty of successful out-of-state hunters left Alaska earlier this year with bear meat – and a load of parasites.
The incident is a good reminder that the trichinellosis roundworm is widespread in bears and meat needs to be thoroughly cooked, said Dr. Louisa Castrodale, an epidemiologist and veterinarian with the Alaska Department of Health. She said the group of friends became sick after they returned home.
“They all came up to hunt, from four different states, and after they got home they started emailing back and forth, ‘Are you sick? I’m sick.’ They figured it out,” Castrodale said. “One person from Washington had some meat and had the Washington Health Department test it, and it was positive.”
She said the hunters cooked hunks of meat over their campfire. “Like any meat, you want to get it up over a certain temperature and thoroughly cook the whole thing,” she said. “Over a fire it’s hard to say if it’s evenly cooked.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wild game meat like bear should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees and rest at that temperature for three minutes. Curing, salting, drying, smoking, or microwaving does not consistently kill the worms, and homemade jerky and sausage were the cause of many cases of trichinellosis reported to CDC in recent years.
That’s true in Alaska. Dr. Kimberlee Beckmen, the veterinarian for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said curing methods that don’t kill the parasites, such as drying or smoking, and inadequate cooking, like slow cooking in a crock pot, cause most of the cases she knows of in Alaska.
Drying is not an appropriate method for curing bear meat, as it doesn’t kill the parasites.
“People should always assume bear meat is infected,” she said. “It must be cooked, 100 percent of the time. You can’t see the larvae, they’re microscopic.”
Trichinellosis, also called trichinosis, is the disease caused by a nematode, a tiny worm with an adult and larval form. Trichinella is the genus, and spiralis is the species most adapted to domestic pigs. T. nativa is the species found in Alaska’s bears. It’s a much tougher bug. Freezing will kill spiralis, freezing doesn’t kill the northern variety, nativa.
Beckmen cited a study where infected polar bear meat was frozen at minus 18 degrees centigrade for six years and the parasites were still viable; and another where fox meat frozen for four years was still laden with living larvae, ready to infect a new host. “It’s arctic adapted to freezing,” she said. “For Trichinella to spread, it has to be consumed by another carnivore. It can survive for a very long time in a carcass that is frozen. It wants to be consumed by another potential host later. It’s biding its time.”
Trichinellanativa is found in carnivores such as wolves, foxes, lynx and coyotes, and walrus and seals as well. So how do carnivores live with this parasite?
While the trichinella species most commonly found in pork can be killed by freezing and by heating the meat to 140 degrees, the Alaska trichinella parasite found in bears is more hardy. Meat must be cooked thoroughly to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, and then hold or “rest” at that temperature for at least three minutes.
“It’s a parasite that evolved along with the hosts, carnivores and scavengers, so bears and lynx are adapted to living with it,” Beckmen said. “It affects us more severely because we’re not typically exposed to it. Some animals may develop muscle edema and pain, and I’m sure some animals suffer more problems than others depending on the number of larvae they consume.”
Parasites in general don’t cause severe symptoms in the species they’re evolved for, she said. Parasites and their hosts evolve together, and it rarely benefits the parasite to kill its host. “Wildlife having parasites is a normal state, and doesn’t usually cause problems unless the animal is sick from some other reason or stressed.”
But that’s not the case when the parasite jumps to a different species. In part because the parasite can’t complete its usual life cycle, it gets confused and ends up in the wrong part of the body, like the eyes instead of the gut.
“It’s not meant to be in us, we react severely,” Beckmen said. “Like the roundworm of dogs, which causes blindness and brain inflation in children. In people it may migrate throughout the body, it goes to the brain or the eyes, in a dog, it goes to intestine and lives there on the contents.”
Trichinellosis rarely kills people, but it can cause severe pain, swelling and inflammation. Castrodale said initial symptoms result from the adult parasites in the intestinal tract and include diarrhea. She added that the initial symptoms can be mild and may not even really register. Over the course of the next few weeks the larvae migrate to muscles and establish themselves, which results in fever, muscle pain, weakness, and sometimes swelling around the skin of the eyes. “That’s when people realize something is up, they’re sick,” she said.
The CDC reports that trichinellosis is rare, and about 20 cases a year are reported. Rare, but Castrodale said this isn’t the first time a situation like this has occurred. “People will call from out of state and describe their symptoms and we’ll ask, ‘Did you eat bear meat?’ If you have those muscle pains and walk into clinic in Lower 48 they won’t necessarily think to ask about it.”
Prompt treatment with deworming drugs will kill the adults, but once larvae are established in muscle tissue, usually three or four weeks after infection, they’re much less vulnerable to the drug. The CDC reports that the host immune response leads to expulsion of the adult worms after several weeks; the larvae, once in muscle, can persist for months or years, although symptoms typically wane after several months.
“Treatment might include a steroid to calm the immune response and address the inflammation,” Castrodale said. “Eventually people get over it, it runs its course. You still have them, but they stop migrating, they’re walled off and encysted.”
Caribou meat can carry a parasitic disease, toxoplasmosis, and should be cooked.
How prevalent is this parasite in Alaska’s wild carnivores?
Beckmen looked at tissue samples from bears and wolves killed in the state predator control program. She’s also sampled bears killed in Defense of Life and Property (DLP) and sampled coyotes, lynx and walrus. She said the tongue and diaphragm will have most larvae. Lynx, coyotes, foxes and wolves have a very high rate of infection, but since people don’t generally eat those animals that’s not well known.
“The prevalence rate in black bears is higher the further north you go, and polar bears are 100 percent infected,” she said.
She added that another parasitic disease, toxoplasmosis, is also prevalent in wild game in northern Alaska and she cautions people against eating raw meat from caribou or marine mammals.
Pregnant women should especially abstain, as toxoplasmosis can be damaging or fatal to a developing fetus. Small children are also at risk.
Trump overturned the rule Monday, handing control of the hunting regulations over to Alaska state officials who have shown an eagerness to control predator populations as a way to protect other animals such as deer. But animal rights activists say this will open the door to hunters snatching hibernating bears and wolves out of their dens, or even killing them in front of their cubs.
The president also rolled back the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Internet privacy rules and the Labor Department’s workplace protections that required companies to report injuries and illnesses that occur on the job.
Nearly 14,000 grizzly bears have been killed in B.C. since the government started tracking mortality records for the species in 1975, the vast majority by hunters, according to provincial data compiled by the David Suzuki Foundation.
Of those bears – an estimated 329 each year – 87 per cent have been killed by licensed hunters, with other kills attributed to causes including the shooting of problem bears by conservation officers, illegal poaching and collisions with cars and trains.
A total of 13,804 grizzly bears have been killed by humans from 1975 to 2016, the group says.
The Suzuki foundation provided the data to The Globe and Mail ahead of the opening on Saturday of the province’s controversial trophy grizzly-bear hunt. The governing Liberal party has defended the hunt and resisted calls to shut it down. With the Opposition NDP opposed to the hunt, the issue will likely arise during the spring election campaign.
The figures, compiled from the B.C. Compulsory Inspection Database, show a relatively consistent number of grizzly bears killed each year over the past four decades, with the exception of a dip in 2001, when there was a moratorium on the grizzly-bear hunt.
(The database consists of information submitted by hunters through required inspections for certain species, including grizzly bears.)
The figures also indicate that, on average, 34 per cent of grizzly bears killed each year are female – a percentage that worries some conservationists and is one element in a public debate over whether the hunt should be banned.
“Despite being a large, dominant animal, grizzlies are among the most threatened large species on the continent,” Faisal Moola, director-general of the Suzuki foundation, said on Friday.
Because female grizzly bears reproduce later in life and have a small number of cubs that survive, the species is vulnerable to decline if too many female bears are taken out of the population, he said.
“The ability of a population to rebound, or bounce back, from a period of hunting, is wholly dependent on the success of those female bears to continue to reproduce and replenish the population,” Dr. Moola said.
The province estimates the grizzly population in B.C. at 15,000 – about one-quarter of the population in North America. Of 56 bear “population units” in B.C. – geographic areas based on habitat and natural boundaries – nine are classified as threatened.
But conservation groups say that figure overestimates the health of the grizzly population.
The Liberal government maintains that the grizzly-bear hunt is sustainable, based on sound science, and tightly regulated.
If hunters take more than 30 per cent of female bears, “hunting opportunities are reduced or that unit is closed to hunting,” the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations said on Friday in a statement.
There is significant opposition to the hunt, including from First Nations that see greater economic opportunity in bear-viewing.
There is also debate over whether sanctioned hunts could put further pressure on population units deemed to be threatened.
The province refused to provide spatial data on individual grizzly kills unless the Suzuki foundation agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement, which it declined to do, Dr. Moola said.
Without that information, the group was unable to determine whether grizzly bears are being killed in parks or protected areas or in local populations where over-hunting has occurred in the past, he said in an e-mail.
Kill locations of grizzly bears are “considered sensitive information and not released publicly,” the ministry said. “The province fully supports ensuring the long-term sustainability of Grizzly bear populations, and the protection of seasonally-critical habitats is a significant part of conservation efforts,” the ministry added.
Grizzly-bear hunting is not allowed in areas where conservation is a concern. Last September, the B.C. Auditor-General’s office included grizzly-bear management in its list of planned projects to determine “whether government is meeting its objective of ensuring healthy grizzly bear populations throughout B.C.”
The 16 national wildlife refuges in Alaska span the state from the remote Arctic on the northern edge to the volcanic Aleutian islands southwest of Anchorage. Across the refuges’ nearly 77 million acres, animal diversity abounds — ice worms and seabirds, black bears and grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou, predators and prey. There is one guiding principle behind the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s management of all the species on these refuges: Conserve the natural diversity of wildlife as it is. In essence, let them be, and let humans enjoy the spectacle of nature on these refuges.
But at these particular enclaves, that also means letting humans hunt — within limits. It’s difficult to believe that any wildlife refuge isn’t truly a refuge from hunters. That’s the way the national system of refuges started, but over the last quarter century, many have been opened up to regulated hunting.
And herein lies the problem. The state of Alaska shares the responsibility for managing the refuges’ wildlife, and it has its own goal: Making sure there are plenty of animals to hunt. In an effort to maximize the number of moose, caribou and deer, the state authorized in some areas more efficient but brutal methods to kill the wolves and bears that prey upon those popular hunting targets.
Concerned that the state’s predator control campaign could become widespread enough to disrupt the refuges’ ecosystems, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule that bars hunters and trappers in the refuges from killing wolves and their pups in their dens, killing bear cubs or sows with cubs, baiting brown bears, shooting bears from aircraft, or capturing bears with traps and snares. The rule took effect in September.
Alarmingly, Alaska’s congressional delegation is pushing hard to get rid of these ecologically sound and humane restrictions, and Republican lawmakers are responding. A joint resolution revoking the rule has passed the House and is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate the week of March 20. It is misguided and should be hunted down and killed.
Let’s be clear on a few things. The federal rule prohibits only these gruesome methods of hunting on national wildlife refuges. It does not apply to hunting in state-owned wilderness or to rural Alaskan residents who hunt for subsistence. And it’s doubtful that killing huge numbers of wolves and bears would automatically drive up the number of moose and caribou. “The best available science indicates that widespread elimination of bears, coyotes and wolves will quite unlikely make ungulate herds magically reappear,” wrote 31 biologists and other scientists to then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last year when the rule was still being studied.
In other words, the Alaskan government sought to allow types of hunting that probably would not accomplish what it wants to accomplish, but would end up killing brown bears who’d been lured with bait, slaughtering helpless cubs and wolf pups, and allowing bears to languish in excruciating pain for unknown hours in steel-jawed traps. This is unconscionable.
And this is not a case of states’ rights being usurped by the federal government. If anything, the congressional measures would subvert the federal government’s decades-long statutory authority over federal lands in Alaska.The national refuges are not Alaska’s private game reserve. That wilderness belongs to all of us. The Senate should stop this bill from going any further.