Congressional debate about Alaska hunting rules in April brought a spotlight on a little-understood Alaska Native method of hunting bears in dens.

At a November meeting in Anchorage, the problem pitted Alaska Native students new from a class on the best way best to defend traditional hunting practices against animal rights activists by Florida drawn to Alaska by an obscure article of law which states it’s permissible under specific circumstances to kill bear cubs.

Harvesting a bear throughout its winter hibernation is a way to find new bear meat in the winter. It’s recognized under Alaska subsistence hunting rules as a “customary and traditional use” of black bears in six Alaska game management units at the southern and western Interior.

The search was widely practiced, including in the Tanana Valley. In his 1986 oral history autobiography, Minto Chief Peter John — that was born in 1900 — described hunting bears in dens with a .22-caliber rifle and despite an ax.

Today, discovering bears in dens stays important across the Koyukuk River, stated Ricko DeWilde, the owner of HYDZ, an Alaska Native-inspired clothing design firm in Fairbanks. DeWilde grew up outside of Huslia and yields to the Koyukuk River area for fall hunts, for example, search for denning bears.

“We start hunting them around when the leaves drop and they den up. Later on, we will check around the rivers for places we believe they might be in,” he explained.

“Families might check 80 to 100 dens and they might get lucky and possibly get you to five grips.”

Bears are among the most admired of creatures one of the Koyukon Athabascan people, and you’ll find rules for what portions of the bear women are allowed to the consume, he explained. Even speaking about sparks is depended upon among several people, he explained.

Back in November, DeWilde was one of 20 students who obtained a class, Introduction to the Board of Game, offered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Tanana Chiefs Conference. At the assembly, he explained against a proposition from animal rights organization OneProtest that would have made it illegal for hunters to kill bear cubs, which in practice would have stopped den hunting.

The proposition, based on DeWilde and others who testified, was founded on the misconception that seekers aim young bear cubs. In actuality, hunters make an effort not to get dens with cubs, but are bound to kill the cubs if they find them at a room with a sow.

Back in April 2017, animal rights advocates all over the world turned their focus to Alaska because of the act of Congress that eliminated some hunting limitations on national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The legislation didn’t have an effect on subsistence, so it really didn’t change the rules for murdering bear cubs.

Persons with OneProtest, which will be located in Jacksonville, Florida, investigated the matter and learned that under a few states it’s legal to kill sows with cubs in Alaska, an idea the activists found particularly “barbaric.” A petition organized by the group to outlaw cub hunting in Alaska received nearly 30,000 signatures.

OneProtest was set up to ban bear hunting in Florida, and now has many animal welfare campaigns throughout the nation. Along with its Alaska effort, the team has attempted to prevent bear hunting in New Jersey and to close Mexico’s San Juan de Aragon zoo for inferior treatment of animals.

Two OneProtest volunteers traveled to Anchorage in November to inquire Alaska’s Board of Game to remove the two exceptions for Alaska’s prohibition on killing bear cubs: Alaska’s rules permit the murdering of cubs in the Yukon Flats north of Fairbanks below a supply the OneProtest volunteers discovered was created because of nuisance bears. In a second, and geographically bigger area, the rules permit the murdering of cubs in bear den hunts.

The Board of Game voted OneProtest’s proposal , which is the committee’s normal response to suggestions from environmental groups. But at a scene odd in the long and controversial history between animal rights activists and also Alaska seekers, both teams met and found some common ground.

DeWilde, that shook his head and dismissed the OneProtest activists because “super bunny huggers” throughout their testimony, later talked to them at the resort lobby.

“They were really open-minded, it turned out. You can tell they really respected how we live and also the respect we’ve had for your animal. There’s a lot that goes into harvesting that animal (bears). That is definitely the most respected animal.”

After the assembly, OneProtest updated its effort site (bearcubs) together with information about its Alaska excursion, and made a video apology.

“Into the Native individuals, pitsaqenrita (Yupik to get ‘I am sorry’). We apologize for any crime that our initial mistake caused,” a message in the end of the video stated.

OneProtest activist Robert Evans said he’s still enthusiastic about working to change Alaska hunting rules in the future, but might take on another topic, such as Alaska’s predator control policies. If he can do it, he explained, he’d also try to work with Alaska’s regional advisory committees instead of writing his own proposition.

“We’d have done more in the grass roots to get the advisory panels perform the proposal rather than people,” he explained. “It’s got to be arriving from Alaskans. There can’t be any perception, even though this wasn’t the case here, that it’s coming from an outside source.”