In a time where each day seems stranger than the last, Alaska had what is probably its most notable April Fool’s Day since April 1974. That’s when Porky Bickar set a stack of old tires on fire in the cone of the dormant volcano Mt. Edgecumbe near Sitka, Alaska. Locals feared that the volcano was about to erupt. When they figured out it was all a joke, I imagine most people laughed it off.
But after the Governor’s press conference on April 1, 2020 and the subsequent announcement by the Fish and Game department, no one was laughing.
During his daily Coronavirus update, governor Mike Dunleavy announced that spring bear seasons for both brown and black bears were cancelled. I have a feeling that most hunters watching this were as taken aback as I was. He surely couldn’t have meant what he just said. He was discussing Kodiak Island and how the hunts there were soon to open and typically bring people from all over the world, flocking through the tiny town and out across the island to hunt bears. It would make sense to close bear hunting on the island to prevent potentially infected travelers from causing an outbreak. Then his final statement sounded like an afterthought. “Brown and black bear seasons are cancelled.”
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game quickly issued an order proclaiming all bear seasons were closed statewide until May 31st. There was an exception listed for subsistence hunts, but without much more explanation, no one really knew what that meant.
Most people understand that we are in unprecedented times and we need to make sacrifices to prevent the coronavirus outbreak from getting worse. But people also have a limit to what they are willing to put up with, and to tell Alaskans (at the tail end of the coldest winter in 44 years) that they would not be allowed to locally hunt bears in the spring … well, that was our line in the sand. We’ll follow stay-at-home orders, close businesses, limit our travels, but start taking away our means for replenishing our freezers and restore our mental health by cancelling hunting and fishing seasons and you’ve got a fight on your hands.
The response from Alaskans was overwhelming. Emails and phone calls to both the governor’s office as well as the directors of ADF&G poured in. There was a strong enough of a response from the public to provoke a reversal of the resident portion of the mandate, just 24 hours after the initial announcement, offering a much more logical and reasonable restriction. For non-residents, the season is still closed until May 31, along with out-of-state-travel quarantine mandates. But it’s still a victory for locals who will get to hunt bears this spring. Even in these uncertain times, it shows the power that hunters have when we stand together. It also shows that state governments can make thoughtful regulations that keep the public safe but also allow outdoor opportunities.
In all of this, we don’t want to shrug off everyone who had to cancel their hunt. More importantly, don’t forget about the many outfitters who are also out of a job due to this pandemic. Just because we can go hunt for our personal needs doesn’t mean that people aren’t affected. Before this is over, all of us will be affected one way or another, but thankfully, we can still find solace in the fact that we’ll be able to hunt, fish, and eat wild game in the midst of this mess.