Bear-baiting was a popular event in England until the 19th century. Herds of bears were locked away, then brought out to an arena or so-called “bear-gardens.” At the center of the fenced area was a Roman-style pit with raised seating for spectators. A post would be set in the ground toward the edge of the pit and the bear chained to it, either by the leg or neck. A number of well-trained hunting dogs would then be set on it, being replaced as they got tired or were wounded or killed. In some cases the bear was let loose, allowing it to chase after animals or people.
King Henry VIII was a fan. He had a pit constructed at Whitehall. Daughter Elizabeth I also held a fondness for watching the bear baitings – when parliament tried to stop performances on Sundays, she overruled them.
Recalling a history of such actions generally leaves us relieved at the civility of our own era. We don’t do that to bears anymore, right? If a bear garden promoter tried to put on an event today, he wouldn’t get far in today’s world.
Or, so we might think. In reality, we’re not that far progressed. We still allow bear-baiting as a state and through our federal government.
Among the press releases passed along to our readers is this one issued Friday by the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge which read:
“The refuge is offering opportunities for individuals to participate in black bear baiting. The application process to obtain a black bear baiting permit for 2012 has changed. A random drawing will be used to determine the order in which bait areas will be selected.
“In order to participate in the random drawing, permit applications must be received between March 12 and 4:30 p.m. on April 6. At 8:30 a.m. Saturday, April 7, the random drawing will commence. You must be present when your name is drawn. Bait areas will be chosen and permits issued in the order drawn. After the drawing, all remaining sites will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Any applicants not present when drawn may select from these available sites.
“Permits are issued for exclusive one-square mile areas within that portion of the refuge open to black bear baiting.”
The black bear baiting opens from May 1 to June 30.
The process of bear baiting is explained in online clinics conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. On YouTube, hunters uploaded footage of their baiting stations. One is totally silent, just a camera watching a bear taking food from a barrel. The black bear reaches inside for a second helping, and after he finishes that, a shot squeezes off and the hunter has his bear.
This is an old practice in Alaska that goes way back to territorial days when it was an acceptable way of hunting bears. Only more recently, in the mid-1980s, did state and federal biologists begin to regulate it. In 2004, voters were asked if they wanted to ban the habit. After a vote of 54 percent for, and 46 percent against, it stayed on.
No, it’s not the same as the old English style of bear-baiting. It’s not as cruel as snaring bears. It might not even beat out aerial shooting of wolves for downright unfair chase hunting. Nevertheless, isn’t it still highly questionable activity for humanity to continue?
In Alaska wildlife discussions these days, there’s no end to the animal issues. Take your pick: belugas, polar bears, black bears browns, wolves from Kenai and wolves from the Interior. So many animals, so little time. The luxury of having them around for debate, complaint and exploitation may be a fading one.
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