December 14, 2019

Baiting Bears Does Not Produce Large Bears or Welfare Bears

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I have said before and will state again, one can only hope that when voters go to the polls to vote on any issue, they are at least afforded the opportunity to get the truth as it pertains to the issue. Maine will face a referendum next November on whether or not to ban bear baiting, trapping and hunting bears with hound dogs. And as one might expect, the rhetoric is already running a bit rampant.

In an opinion piece found in the Bangor Daily News, one citizen wrote about bear baiting and was misleading the people by referring to it as a, “massive bear feeding program.” In addition, this person states that baiting bears is done, “to produce more and larger bears in order that they may be killed for sport and trophies.”

Let’s look at these two issues a bit closer. Baiting bear in Maine for the purpose of harvesting a bear has been around for awhile but never really became a popular method of hunting until the mid to late 1980s. Fish and game experts manipulated the bear hunt for many years. Bounties on bear were available from as early as 1770 but statewide bounties were implemented on a regular basis between 1880 and 1957. The first official “bear hunting season” occurred in 1931.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife(MDIFW) completed a reassessment of bear management goals in 1999 to ensure proper management techniques, seasons and science were being used to maintain a healthy population of bears. After all, that is their legislatively mandated job. By 2010 the bear population was estimated at between 24,000 and 36,000 and thus, it is my guess, that the rounded off figure of 30,000 bears is rightly used.

To describe the tactic of baiting bears as a “massive bear feeding program” is a bit of a stretch, is misleading and rooted in emotionally charge rhetoric in hopes of influencing public opinion. So, what else is new?

It is clear, from information about bear harvests provided by MDIFW, that in 2012, of the 3,207 bears harvested, the majority were taken over bait. MDIFW states that for the first time bears were taken in 28 of 29 Wildlife Management Districts(WMD), however the majority of bears registered happened in the northern half of the state. From that demographic alone, a “massive bear feeding program” becomes a silly overstatement.

According to MDIFW information, of the 3,207 bears killed by all legal methods in 2012, 2,613 were taken over bait. If we utilize the population estimate of 30,000 bears and less than 10% were taken over bait, no matter how liberal one might determine how many bait sites there were, baiting in areas where MDIFW says the highest harvest percentages were 21 bears per 100 square miles and the state average 11 bears per square 100 miles (.21 and .11 bears per square mile), you simply could not come up with supportable data that shows a “massive bear feeding program.” It’s just not that wide spread and effects far too few bears.

The author of this referenced opinion piece says that this “massive bear feeding program”, which we’ve determined does not exist, is, “to produce more and larger bears in order that they may be killed for sport and trophies.” There are two distinct issues brought up here. First the claim is that baiting bears produces more bears. The author argues that higher production rates exist because females now have higher fat reserves and thus produce more offspring. By a stretch this might apply to one specific area where regular feeding of bears, not just baiting, has taken place but I don’t buy it. Bears are intelligent, fear humans and can smell something 7 times better than a blood hound. I doubt that momma bears are teaching her cubs to become dependent on human food.

By such emotional, nonsensical rhetoric being spread like the plague, I think people have come to believe that this baiting thing is easy to do, brings bears in to the feeding trough like hogs at feeding time, at which time a hunter sits in a recliner chair and slaughters defenseless animals. In talking with experienced bear baiting hunters, if a hunter doesn’t take every precaution to ensure his scent is not left behind, bears just won’t come into a site.

In addition, this claim of producing more bears is based on the false premise that Maine is implementing a “massive bear feeding program.” It’s time to get real over this crap sandwich, regurgitation being printed in our newspapers.

The second part of this claim states that this “massive bear feeding program” is to produce, “larger bears in order that they may be killed for sport and trophies.” If that were actually the case, then records should indicate that in more recent years, harvested bears should be bigger and bigger and more “trophy” bears harvested and registered with the Maine Antler and Skull Trophy Club.

An examination of data provided shows that the 10 largest (trophy) bears, taken by gun, occurred between 1962 and 2000. What happened to the production of larger bears due to a “massive bear feeding program?”

The truth is the bear baiting period of about 7 weeks is but a drop in the bucket of time bears spend feeding and affects a very small percentage of the statewide bear population and most often in very remote locations. What makes bear baiting effective, as a tool of MDIFW to control bear populations, is that it comes during a time of year when bears are foraging heavily in order to build up fat reserves. Biologists at MDIFW tell us regularly that the success rate of bear hunting over bait will be determined by the availability of natural food. This tells us that bears are not addicted to human food as the anti bear hunters suggest and much more prefer their own natural sources.

Contrary to what some in Maine might be reading, there are not “Millions of Pounds of Doughnuts to Bait Bear.” Nor is there a “massive bear feeding program” that is causing bears to become addicted to junk food, produce more offspring and/or grow bigger and become trophies. Using bait as a tool is determined by bear scientists to be necessary in order to control bear populations. This control and management produces a healthy bear population along with trickle down effects of other wildlife.

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