- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Just before leaving office, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura was asked for his thoughts of bear baiting. He replied, “Going out there and putting jelly doughnuts down and Yogi comes up and sits there and thinks he’s found the mother lode for five days in a row — and then you back-shoot him from a tree?…. That ain’t sport — that’s an assassination.”
   Mr. Ventura had it exactly right: baiting makes a mockery of any sense of fair play or hunting ethics. baiting also wreaks havoc by creating a class of “nuisance” bears that puts the animals, private property and people at risk. The practice is shameful. It is bad public policy, and it ought to be outlawed.
   Baiters dump parts of animal carcasses, pastries and other decaying foods into piles or barrels. To the bears, who feed in autumn for 15 hours a day to prepare for a long period of dormancy, the bait piles must seem like a gift from heaven.
   Many guides and outfitters set up the bait “stations” to make it easy for paying clients to shoot a trophy bear. The client, perched in a tree or behind a blind, takes aim with a rifle or bow, often when the oblivious animal is feasting. It’s a last meal for the bear, a big payday for the guide, and light work for the so-called “hunter” who pulls the trigger.
   It is not exactly heart-stopping action, except if you are the bear. Nor can it be called by any stretch “subsistence hunting.” Bear baiters litter the woods with scraps and garbage, leaving behind far more food than they drag off in the form of the bear meat — if they bother taking the sinewy carcass at all.
   Of the 27 states that allow bear hunting, two-thirds ban baiting. In the states that allow it, baiting often occurs on our federal lands. But baiting on these lands is particularly hard to defend, since all of the federal land agencies put out materials telling the public not to do precisely what the baiters are doing. The U.S. Forest Service, for instance, publishes leaflets and brochures that warn “Do Not Feed Bears!,” “Bears Are Dangerous!,” and “A fed bear is a dead bear.” “Biologically, there is no difference between a bait station and a dump,” wrote a top official with the National Park Service. “Bait stations habituate bears to human-generated food, contributing to the potential for conflicts between bears and people in the park.”
   Tom Beck, a hunter and a bear biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, wrote in Outdoor Life, “I firmly believe that baiting creates ‘nuisance’ bears. Black bears are naturally wary, instinctively avoiding close contact with humans. But large amounts 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.”
   Not only lazy, but dangerous and destructive: Bears accustomed to human foods raid campgrounds, break into tents and cabins, and may even threaten people. In Yosemite National Park, where many visitors ignore the no-feeding policies, bears caused more than $630,000 in property damage in one recent year.
   Reps. Elton Gallegly and James Moran, have introduced legislation, H.R. 1472, to halt baiting on federal lands. A Senate companion bill will soon follow. The anti-baiting legislators object to the practice not only on the basis of fairness and decency, but also as a matter of consistency in federal policy. If it is wrong to set out food to lure bears for picture-taking, or even just to watch the bears, why is it OKto lure bears for the purpose of shooting them?
   Bear baiting apologists claim that it’s needed to control the bear population. What they fail to mention is that thousands of bait piles provide massive supplemental feed for the animals not shot for trophies. Bears that build major fat reserves thanks to bait stations are more likely to produce cubs and add to the total bear population. The practice is self-defeating if the goal is population reduction.
   The federal government banned the baiting of waterfowl decades ago. And in 1970, Congress outlawed hunting by aircraft — for the same reasons of ethics and good public policy. Now, it is time for the federal government to tell hunters to pursue their quarry the old-fashioned way and to quit turning thousands of bruins into garbage moochers and nuisance animals. Bear baiters need to leave their jelly doughnuts at home and quit treating federal lands like their dumping grounds.
   Wayne Pacelle is a senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. (www.hsus.org.)

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