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Where there is bear hunting, there is controversy. One of the more controversial subjects is whether bear baiting is ethical.
Bear baiting is the act of placing food such as tuna fish, corn, old baked goods, or items coated in sweet liquids, such as honey or syrup, at a “bait site” in order to lure bears. Hunters are often perched in tree stands close to the bait site so they can assess the size and gender of bears before harvesting.
Many anti-hunting groups strongly oppose the idea of bear baiting and label it, inhumane and unfair. They believe that enticing a bear to wander closer to the hunter is against the very definition of a hunt. They also argue that it adds to the number of “problem bears” because, those bears who are not harvested at the site, learn to eat human food and then look for it elsewhere in neighborhoods and campsites.
“I firmly believe that baiting creates ‘nuisance’ bears,” Colorado Division of Wildlife bear biologist, Tom Beck said. “Black bears are naturally wary, instinctively avoiding close contact with humans. But a large amount of tasty food, easily obtained, defeats this wariness. By baiting, we create lazy bears who have been rewarded, not punished, for overcoming their fear of humans.”
While some states acknowledge this argument and have outlawed bear baiting, other states and wildlife managers believe bear baiting is a useful hunting and management strategy. Some conservation groups argue that bear baiting creates harvest opportunities for bears in certain areas where other methods of hunting are not very effective. They also state that baiting is used for other conservation purposes besides hunting.
A study by the Maine Environmental Policy Institute, Black Bears: A Situation Analysis on Baiting and Hounding, explains that wildlife control officers might also bait bears to capture a reputed ‘nuisance animal’ and relocate, aversively condition, or euthanize the animal.
The report states: “As wildlife agencies set target bear populations, collect biological data on state populations, mitigate human-bear conflicts, and provide recreational opportunities for hunters, they need to determine the most effective, efficient, and feasible manner with which to achieve management goals. Baiting and hounding have shown to be two viable management tools.”
Hunters have also weighed in on the issue. They argue that baiting draws bears closer to hunters, which results in more accurate shots taken from shorter distances. Some believe that the steeper angle of shots taken from tree stands improves blood trails and allows the bear to be tracked more easily, ensuring that every bear is recovered.
The stigma associated with bear baiting has given rise to various legislative and administrative efforts throughout the United States and legal parameters are still being drawn. Some states ban the practice, while others allow it but offer or require bear baiting courses in order to properly educate hunters on the most ethical baiting strategies. Hunters are the frontrunners of conservation and understand that ethical harvesting methods should be at the core of every pursuit. Bear populations are currently on the rise. It rests on individual states to conduct accurate population surveys and set necessary guidelines to effectively manage the species.
As bear populations increase, the bear baiting public debate will surface over and over again. Where the practice is allowed, it is up to the individual hunter to decide. The best approach for deciding whether to use bait, including to aid in conservation, is to get educated on the facts, local laws and best science-based management plans, and act accordingly.
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