What is bear baiting?
Bear baiting involves intensive feeding of black bears to make them easier targets of trophy hunters waiting nearby. It occurs typically weeks in advance of hunting seasons to accustom bears to feeding in a certain area.
Hunters stack donuts, candy, grease, rotting garbage, corn, fish, meat and other high-calorie foods in the bait piles. Legal in many states, the practice is unsporting and inhumane, increases conflicts with humans and carries environmental consequences.
What are the welfare and ethical consequences of bear baiting?
- Cubs can be orphaned if their mother is shot.
- Bears become concentrated, putting young individuals in harm’s way, as adults may prey upon them.
- Some bait is made from waste candy containing the compound Theobromine, which is toxic to dogs, coyotes, foxes, rabbits, hares and wild fowl and was recently documented as fatal to bears. Spoiled bait is also toxic and even fatal to bears and other wildlife.
- The potential for disease and parasite transmission between species, especially rabies, rises.
- Baiting is considered unsporting, even among many sportsmen, because it is not “fair chase,” the cornerstone of ethical hunting.
How does baiting increase conflicts?
In late summer and fall, bears go into a frenzied eating behavior, called hyperphagia, as they attempt to gain 20 to 40 pounds per week to survive hibernation. Baiting occurs during this exact time in bears’ desperate search for extra calories, increasing the likelihood of conflicts. Bears subjected to baiting come to associate food with the smells of humans and even livestock. Those who then become habituated to human foods become less shy and more unpredictable, changing their eating habits, home ranges and movement patterns in ways that are sometimes irreversible.
What are the environmental problems associated with baiting?
- Bait sites require ease of access and biologists have noted habitat destruction at these places, including the spread of invasive plants.
- Bait piles are strong-smelling and irritating to other outdoor recreationists, and if they are near roadways, they can endanger bears.
Does the amount of food in the environment affect bear populations?
As Craig McLaughlin, Maine’s former lead bear biologist, explains, “There is little evidence that bear populations are regulated by internal factors, such as behavior. … It is more likely that they are limited by their food supply, which may control age of sexual maturity, proportion of adult females that reproduce and survival.” Hence, supplemental feeding increases the bear population, a result opposite from what many wildlife managers intend.