Editorial: Government takes time out from multiple crises to target majestic animals

Editorial: Government takes time out from multiple crises to target majestic animals

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It’s a bad time to be a bear. In Missouri, state conservation officials are opening a hunting season on black bears, with the rationale that a statewide bear population that might stand at less than 600 is more than enough. Meanwhile, just when you thought this White House couldn’t get any more cruel, the administration is rolling back Obama-era restrictions on controversial hunting methods on federal lands in Alaska, including using doughnuts to bait mother bears and their cubs from their dens to be shot.

Black bears, among Missouri’s largest native animals, were almost gone from the state by the 1950s but have been rebounding. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the current black bear population, concentrated mostly south of the Missouri River, totals somewhere between 540 and 840 animals.

That’s a wide margin of uncertainty, but even at the top end, less than 900 bears in a state Missouri’s size doesn’t exactly sound like an infestation. As the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reports, Massachusetts, with about one-sixth Missouri’s land mass, has an estimated 4,500 black bears.

So why — when Missouri can’t even say with reasonable specificity how many bears there are, only that it’s a relatively low number — is it urgent right now to open a 10-day hunting season in October? No wonder some two-thirds of the more than 3,300 respondents of a state conservation survey say they oppose the idea.

Life for bears in Alaska is also getting more dangerous. The Trump administration, as it is always eager to do, is reversing rules imposed by the Obama administration, in this case regarding humane management of national lands in Alaska. The changes would allow resumption of truly barbaric hunting practices of brown bears, as well as wolves, and the young of both species.

Under the new federal rules, hunters in national preserves in Alaska will soon be allowed to bait hibernating bears and cubs from their dens to kill them; to use spotlights to invade wolf dens to kill pups; to shoot animals — including those that are swimming — from boats or aircraft; and to engage in other practices condemned by conservationists and banned by the Obama administration.

This about-face isn’t about responsible wildlife management but about catering to moose and caribou hunters who don’t want to have to compete with natural predators for their trophies — and, perhaps, about President Donald Trump’s deranged obsession with wiping out all Obama policies, which follows the pattern Trump has set on issues like the environment and energy. The argument that the hunting changes are in line with what Alaska allows on state land doesn’t make it right, it makes those state rules wrong.

With a pandemic raging, the economy struggling and racial tensions boiling over, it’s good to know that both our state and federal governments have the bear menace firmly under control.

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