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May 29, 2009

Spring Bear Hunts

One bullet can kill a whole family

The Humane Society of the United States

bear ma and cub

iStockphoto

Spring is no time to be an orphan, especially if you're a bear cub. Black bear mothers give birth during winter hibernation, and the cubs live on their mother's milk until late summer or early fall. Much of the time this is their only sustenance. Without their mothers, they will die of starvation—unless predators kill them first.

Why does spring make us think of orphaned bear cubs? Because in states that allow spring bear hunting, there is an epidemic of doomed baby bears whose mothers were shot for trophies.

That's why The HSUS is working hard to end spring bear hunts.

Our most recent victory for baby bears came in Maine, where the legislature took a humane stand and voted down a spring bear hunt proposal. In written testimony [PDF], The HSUS made the following points, supported by statements from bear experts:

  • Mother bears often leave their cubs in the safety of a tree while they forage for food as far as a mile or more away. The fact that an adult bear is alone does not mean that she is not a nursing mother.
  • Because bears still have their long winter coats in the spring, hunters cannot tell whether an adult bear is lactating.
  • At the distance most bears are shot, it is practically impossible even to distinguish female bears from males. Therefore, regulations that forbid shooting mothers with cubs look good on paper but are useless in the field.
  • In states that have no spring bear season, few cubs are orphaned. In states with a spring season, it's a very different story.

Eight states still allow a spring bear hunt. Among the worst are:

  • Idaho, where 1,000 to 1,500 bears are killed every spring. There is no way to know how many were nursing mothers, but it can be reasonably assumed that hundreds of cubs—if not close to a thousand—are orphaned in the state each year.
  • Oregon, where between 300 and 400 bears are killed each spring. Hundreds of cubs may be orphaned each year.
  • Montana, where 150 to 180 bears are killed in a spring trophy hunt. Nearly a hundred cubs could be orphaned each year.

(We estimate the numbers of cubs orphaned by assuming that half the bears shot are female. Female bears normally give birth every other year once they have reached maturity, and they typically have three cubs at a time, although they can have as many as five).

Furthermore, in states with large and politically powerful timber industries, such as Washington, large numbers of "depredation" permits may be issued in the spring because bears coming out of hibernation sometimes strip the bark from trees to obtain nutrients when food is scarce.

What You Can Do

Orphaning babies and leaving them to certain death is not sport. Join with The HSUS to end this cruel practice

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