Bear feeding ban would end a ‘mixed message’

Albany – DEC is tightening its regulations to impose a statewide
ban on feeding black bears to eliminate what the department calls
“a mixed message” in which bears can be fed under certain
conditions.

The new regulations would also update conditions under which
hounds can be trained on black bears; houndsmen will still have the
ability to bait bears in relation to those activities.

“The primary thing is the blanket prohibition on feeding
bears,”_DEC_wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst said. “We’ve had a
limited prohibition for quite some time; there was specific
criteria under which bears could be fed. But that was leading to
training bears in behavior associated with human supplies of food,
and feeding bears in general is not a good idea.”

Public comment on the proposed regulations can be made through
June 7, and early indications are that some Adirondack bear-hunting
guides – perhaps the group most affected by the feeding ban – are
questioning the move.

“It’s our business, basically,” said Jake Sauer-Jones, owner of
Outback Outfitters Guide Service in North River (Warren County).
“Seventy-five percent of our business is bear hunters. If they pass
this, I’ll have to close the business.”

Sauer-Jones is one of a handful of Adirondack guides who set
feeding stations at various sites during the summer and into early
September. That helps boost his client’s success rate to about 65
percent.

“We pull the feed nine days before the season, then we’re
hunting over scent, which is legal,” he said. “Our problem is that
we have to compete with Maine, where baiting is legal. By feeding
prior to the season, at least we’re doing something. We’re not
going to be able to compete if this goes through.”

Sauer-Jones said he’s talked with an aide to state Sen. Betty
Little, R-Queensbury, in an effort to have DEC take a second look
at the prohibition on feeding and perhaps offer some type of an
exemption for guides and outfitters.

“The bear population is expanding, and it’s not going to stop,”
he said. “We’ve been doing this for 10 years now.”

DEC’s standard message has been “don’t feed the bears.”_But the
department’s current regulations don’t impose a statewide feeding
ban and, in fact, allow the feeding of bears in locations away from
public roads, campsites, buildings and landfills or transfer
stations.

As a result, some Adirondack guides establish bear-feeding sites
throughout the summer and then – by law – pull the feed nine days
before the early Adirondack bear season in mid-September.

DEC biologists now say that because bears travel great
distances, feeding bruins even in remote areas can ultimately lead
to destructive behavior by wandering bears.

Department officials denied that the feeding ban was prompted by
the agency’s budget problems, which will dramatically limit DEC’s
ability to respond to nuisance bear complaints.

Hurst called the timing of the regulations proposal
“coincidental. We’ve been working toward this enhancement for
several years.”

The proposal comes at a time when black bears are perhaps at
their highest numbers ever in New York, with bruins expanding their
range into areas where they’ve never before been seen. Much of that
expansion is occurring in western New York counties.

Last season’s bear harvest of 1,487 was the second-highest in
the state’s history and a 15 percent increase over the 2008 take of
1,295. A total of 814 bears were killed in the Adirondacks – the
second highest tally in that region’s history. The Catskills
harvest of 494 and the Allegany region’s 179 total were also the
second best ever for those areas.

DEC’s proposal states the feeding ban is designed “to protect
public health and safety, with exceptions allowed only in those
limited instances where needed for research and management
purposes. By adopting this regulation, the DEC_hopes to reduce the
number of problem bears, including situations requiring their
destruction.”

The update on the state’s dog training regulations regarding
bears is necessary, according to the proposal’s language, to define
the conditions under which bears can be fed “as an attractant for
hound training.”

Hounds are fairly regularly used in New York to address nuisance
bear problems as an alternative to killing the problem bruin.

A “major component” of bear hound training is the use of small
bait stations to attract bears. “These food stations allow dog
handlers to select safe, workable locations and guarantee that
inexperienced hounds are being trained to follow the scent of bears
rather than other wildlife,”_DEC’s proposal read. “In most cases,
the training activity itself works as a form of aversive
conditioning for the bears, teaching the bears to avoid humans and
dogs.”

The proposal establishes terms under which bears can be fed for
hound training purposes. It establishes a list of breeds considered
hounds, houndsmen licensing and rules they must follow when
establishing feeding sites. The feed stations must be mapped,
identified by the houndsmen’s license number, and restricted to
locations away from buildings, roads, landfills or transfer
stations.

Public comment on the regulations proposal can be made to Gordon
R. Batcheller, NYSDEC, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754, or to:
wildliferegs@gw.dec.state.ny.us
. In the e-mail, use “Comments on Proposed Rulemaking for Part 187
– Miscellaneous Black Bear Regulations”_in the subject line.

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