Proponents say it’s a simple way to add fairness to the rules for hunting bears.
Instead it’s become one of the fiercest verbal wars and most expensive initiative campaigns in Idaho’s political history. And it’s divided the house of Idaho Gov. Phil Batt and his wife, Jacque.
The governor is voting against Proposition 2, the so-called bear initiative. Jacque Batt is voting for it. “She thinks the bears need a sporting chance,” Batt said last summer when asked about the issue. “That’s not a bad argument. We will split our vote.”
Proposition 2 calls for eliminating spring bear hunting, eliminating the use of hounds to hunt bears and the use of bait. Outside of the Batts’ good-natured discourse, almost nothing about this political battle has been civil.
Opponents have successfully eroded the measure’s one-time lead in the polls by painting it as the work of out-of-state, anti-hunting, animal-rights extremists. Pass the bear initiative and expect other anti-hunting measures to follow, says the Sportsmen’s Heritage Defense Fund.
The Defense Fund also says more bears will be attacking humans if the initiative goes through.
Initiative backers “obviously value the life of an animal over the life of a human,” said Don Clower of the Defense Fund.
“This is not a bunch of bunny huggers down in Boise,” counters Lynn Fritchman of Idaho Coalition United for Bears. It is hunters and other citizens concerned about sportsmanship, ethics and fair chase, he said.
A bear initiative does not translate into the end of hunting, he said. None of the other states to eliminate bait, hound and spring bear hunting by initiative have gone on to ask voters to eliminate all hunting.
“My imagination is inadequate to conceive of Idahoans doing anything to restrict deer or elk hunting,” Fritchman said.
Anti-bear initiative forces have raised twice as much out-of-state money as Idaho Coalition for Bears United, easily debunking the argument that Proposition 2 proponents are the outsiders, the coalition also argues.
The bear initiative has an ally in former Forest Service District Ranger Dick Hodge of Moscow. Nobody damages the woods like the spring hound hunters, he said.
“We seemed to have the most problems with people violating road closures, tearing down gates and rutting up roads,” Hodge said. “The two weeks of hound hunting in the spring caused all of our problems.”
That means costly road repairs or, if there was no money available, more erosion, Hodge said. Then there is the occasional bait site that is not cleaned up and the lost hunting dogs that sometimes had to be rescued.
Most of the offenders came from out of state, Hodge added.
However, Phil Cooper, wildlife educator with the Idaho Fish and Game Department, raises other concerns. Spring bears account for half of the annual bear harvest, he said.
And baiting is much more effective in the spring. Pass the initiative and expect a 60 percent decrease in bear harvest, Cooper said. That means more bears rooting around in people’s orchards, gardens and bee hives.
Bear initiative supporters say one only need to look to Colorado to learn a different story.
Colorado voters passed an initiative in 1992 eliminating spring bear hunting and the use of baits and hounds. Now all bear hunting is in the fall, most of it in September.
Bear hunters initially bagged fewer animals. Now, four years later, bear harvest is back to normal.
The Colorado initiative hasn’t spelled more bear-human problems. “There is no evidence to support the contention that the end of spring bear hunting and dog and baiting has led to a statewide increase in the number of bear-people encounters,” said Todd Malmsbury, chief spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife..
The long-term trend is more wildlife-people encounters of all kinds. But that’s due to a booming human population.
“We simply have more people packed in prime habitat,” he said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BEAR INITIATIVE Proposition 2 calls for eliminating spring bear hunting, eliminating the use of hounds to hunt bears and the use of bait.