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January 11, 2010

Why Doesn't Hunting Solve Conflicts with Bears?

The Humane Society of the United States

bears black on hill

iStockphoto

When a bear passes through a suburban neighborhood or begins raiding trash cans, this is most often the result of people having—either intentionally or not—made food accessible to them.

Tragically, all too often, the solution state wildlife agencies fall back on is to allow a bear hunt or to raise the quota of an existing hunt.

Keeping bears in bear country, not our neighborhoods

Most conflicts with bears can be prevented by taking easy steps to avoid attracting them. Residents who live near bear-inhabited areas can avoid problems by replacing their garbage cans with bear-proof ones, bringing bird feeders in or hanging them high during peak bear foraging seasons, keeping pets and their food indoors, cleaning outdoor grills and avoiding storing food in vehicles.

Bears who have become accustomed to feasting from garbage cans can be discouraged through the implementation of simple, humane aversive conditioning like systematically frightening them with firecrackers, rubber bullets and trained dogs.

Bears are intelligent animals capable of learning that negative consequences result from venturing near humans. When a hunter kills a bear, he does not teach that bear, or any other, to avoid humans. Humane alternatives, on the other hand, teach bears to avoid people and the bears pass this knowledge on to their offspring.

Hunting does not reduce bear-human conflicts

Hunting simply does not and cannot solve conflicts between humans and bears. Some may expect bear-human conflicts to decrease as more bears are killed, but this is not the case [PDF]. Hunting targets bears at random rather than the bears who are actually causing problems. Hunters also generally target the bears living in wilderness areas, far from human habitation, who are large and would make an impressive trophy. The so-called "problem" bears, on the other hand, are typically juvenile males who are still discovering the best ways to obtain food, and live in the urban-suburban interface.

Hunting is no more effective at reducing bear-human conflicts than shooting into a crowded room might be at reducing crime.

Hunting does not reduce bear populations, as many hunters claim. In bear populations that have been studied, as the number of bears hunted increased, so did the state's bear population. Hunting causes a temporary drop in the bear population, followed by an increase in the availability of food. The size of bear populations is determined by the amount of available food, not the number of hunters.

Trophy hunting doesn't solve problems

Bears are not hunted out of concern for public safety or for food. Bear hunters are after trophies: heads and hides to display in their living rooms or trophy rooms. Most bear hunters don't even eat the meat.

Sometimes, as soon as a state's bear population shows signs of recovering from the over-hunting that nearly wiped them out in the last century, the animals are put under the gun to satisfy the demands of trophy hunters.  Often, a hunting season is inaugurated whether or not authorities actually believe bears are overpopulated or becoming a nuisance.

Humane approaches to problems with bears provide simple, long-term solutions rather than short-term, short-sighted ones that provide nothing but a head or a hide for a trophy hunter. 

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