Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Editorials

March 25, 2012

Chasing bears

Fish and wildlife commission approves an inhumane 'sport'

ASHLAND — The Humane Society of the United States thought the issue had been decided March 5 when the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission sided with animal rights groups in rejecting a season during which hunters with dogs could chase bears but not shoot them. At the time, commission members agreed with the Humane Society’s contention that chasing bears was cruel and unsporting.

But the Humane Society’s victory celebration proved to be shortlived. At the urging of pro-hunting groups, the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission on Monday reversed its earlier decision by unanimously supporting a proposal to set aside six weeks to chase black bears with dogs, including one week when the bruins they corner can be shot.

We think the commission mostly got it right the first time. At the March 5 meeting, the commission decided  to set aside only one week for the hunters  to chase bears, but they refused to allow them to shoot any bears. We would have preferred setting aside a limited season in which hunters could shoot bears, but completely banning the chasing of bears just for the sport of it.

To be sure, under the new proposal, the right to chase bears for the fun of it would be restricted  to a 45,000-acre tract in Harlan County, a 43,000-acre tract in Bell County and a 20,000-acre tract in Letcher County. It also restricts the size of each hunting party to no more than five people and eight dogs, a provision that animal rights activist Andrew Johnson found objectionable.

“What about respect for the animals? These bears are chased, often driven away from their families, driven into trees by barking, vicious dogs,” Johnson said. “You have five people and eight dogs against one bear. I believe that directly contradicts your aim of a fair chase. And it’s not ethical or moral in any sense of the words.”

Kentucky becomes one of fewer than 20 states that allow hunters to chase bears with dogs.

The number of bears that could be shot by the houndsmen depends on how many bears are killed during the regular December hunting season. The state allows a quota of 10 bears to be killed by traditional gun hunters, but they have never gotten that many. In fact, during the first year of the two-day bear hunting season in three counties, no bears were killed. The houndsmen would be allowed to finish the quota. So, if gun hunters killed only four bears, as they did last year, the houndsmen could kill up to six.

State Wildlife Director Karen Waldrop said houndsmen could shoot the bears between Dec. 17 and Dec. 21. The dates established for simply chasing the bears runs from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31 and from Dec. 24 to Dec. 28.

We have no objections to hunters killing a limited number of bears, nor do we object to hunters using dogs to track down the bears once the initial bear hunting period ends.Hunters tell us that dogs can greatly improve the success of those hunting bears. Hunting is a way to control the bear population in the state, but that goal can’t be accomplished unless more bears are killed.

Our objection is to just simply chasing the bears, terrorizing the animals just for the fun of it. It is reminiscent of the old fox hunts that were once so popular in England and Scotland. But fox hunting has been banned in England since 2005, because Parliament finally realized the cruelty of chasing foxes for sport. Well, in our book, the same principle applies to chasing bears.

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