Bear bait ban would hamper state’s hunt

Associate Editor

St. Paul Already facing a decline in applicants for the state’s
bear hunt, game managers in Minnesota could see the hunt further
complicated should legislation currently in the U.S. House of
Representatives eventually become law.

Nearly 200 co-sponsors including one from Minnesota have signed
onto a bill that would ban baiting and feeding bears on federal
land. Hunting bears with bait is legal in Minnesota and eight other
states. The “Don’t Feed the Bears Act of 2003,” sponsored by
Democrat Jim Moran of Virginia and Republican Elton Gallegly of
California, would prohibit feeding of bears on federal public
lands, including those managed by the Forest Service, Bureau of
Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The bill
is supported by several anti-hunting groups, including the Humane
Society of the United States.

Hunting groups, including the Ohio-based U.S. Sportsmen’s
Alliance, have lobbied against the bill, which was slated for a
vote by the House Resources Committee earlier this week.

“Our goal is to keep (the bill) from coming out of committee,”
said Rob Sexton, vice president of governmental affairs for USSA.
“If it comes to a vote on the (House) floor, it’s a whole new ball
game.”

Though Moran has attempted to pass such legislation before, this
time is different because the bill has, in Gallegly, an author
who’s “zealously dedicated” to the bill, Sexton said.

The bill would likely change management of bears in the nine
states that allow baiting. Twenty-seven states have a bear hunt.
Sexton said the legislation, if passed, would mark the first time
Congress overruled the states’ ability to manage wild game.

“It would be precedent-setting legislation,” he said. “For the
U.S. Congress to decide if states should allow baiting is way out
of bounds.” The USSA said even in the case of migratory birds,
states are allowed to set seasons, within a framework provided by
the federal government.

Dave Garshelis, bear specialist for the Minnesota DNR, said
passage of this bill would likely aggravate an increasing problem
during the state’s bear hunt overcrowding.

About 15 percent of the bear harvest occurs on federal land in
Minnesota, the vast majority in Superior and Chippewa national
forests, which equate roughly to 15 percent of the hunted areas in
the state. But national forests in the state are favored for
another reason.

“Hunters don’t always want to make a huge effort to get to
places (to hunt),” Garshelis said. “The national forests have a
fair amount of roads on them (whereas) a lot of the private land
(where there are bears) has limited access. The huge tracts of
public land are prime places to hunt, and they’re traditional
places to hunt.

“If baiting (on federal land) is taken away, there will be fewer
chunks of large, open land, and there will be fewer bears
hunted.”

That, Garshelis said, would likely lead to more crowding just
outside those large pieces of land.

According to the HSUS, “Bear baiting has increasingly come under
attack on ethical grounds; hunters who use the technique set out
large piles of odorous foods and then lie in wait for the perfect
trophy bear. The animal never has a chance against the hunter’s
high-powered rifle or compound bow.”

On the HSUS web site, Gallegly says the issue is safety,
primarily for those who visit national parks. Moran adds that
safety is an issue, and that, “In my opinion, bear baiting does not
fit within the definition of hunting as a sport.”

In a press release from Moran’s office, he adds, “This bill is
not about curbing a person’s right to hunt. Instead, this bill is
about ending a practice that poses a threat to the public’s safety
and is unsportsmanlike.”

Besides Minnesota, bear baiting is allowed in Wisconsin,
Michigan, Alaska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah, and Wyoming.
While Minnesota does not allow the hunting of bears with hounds,
most of the states that have a bear hunt do, including Wisconsin
and Michigan.

The USSA has developed the National Bear Hunting Defense Task
Force to stop the bill. Several bear hunting groups have joined the
effort, including some from states where baiting isn’t allowed.
Members of the task force include the Minnesota Bowhunters, the
Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, the Michigan State United
Coonhunters, the North American Bear Hunter’s Alliance, and
others.

Four U.S. representatives from the nine states that allow bait
hunting for bears have signed onto the bill, Sexton said. One of
those is Betty McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat. Fellow Minnesota
Democrat Collin Peterson has voiced opposition to the bill during
committee hearings, a Peterson spokesman said.

To contact your representative regarding the bill, visit the web
site, www.house.gov, or call (202) 224-3121. Or visit the USSA web
site at www.ussportsmen.org.

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