Ottawa Sportsmen's Club News

June 13, 2003

Carole Williams, Club Reporter

Young and Moran Face Off Over Bear Bait Ban

According to Associated Press reporter Frederic J. Frommer, Representative Don Young of Alaska went on an angry tirade at the June 12th hearing before the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans and directed it at Representative Jim Moran for introducing the "Don't Feed The Bears Act of 2003"

"I wish I had my Native people in here right now," he told Moran, the northern Virginia Democrat who co-sponsored the bill. "You'd walk out of here with no head on."

The comments came after a somewhat testy exchange over H.R.-1472, which included a little "Moran-baiting" by Young who asked the congressman how many bear were in his home district in Alexandria, VA, an urban area just outside the nation's capital. Moran replied, "Mr. Young, we both know we represent very different constituents."

Young told Representative Moran. "You have no right, nor do your people have any right, to tell Alaskans how they're going to manage their game. You're trying to tell my people -- you're sitting down here in Washington, D.C. - how they're going to manage their game. You don't know anything about Alaska….you're messing with my people, and that's the wrong thing to do."

Moran stressed that the bill applies only to federal lands, which prompted the reply from Young, "My constituents do, through their taxes, provide the means to purchase and maintain that federal land!"

Liz Ruskin, writing for the Anchorage Daily News, reports that Moran told the Subcommittee, "Shooting a bear in the back while its head is stuffed in a garbage can to feed does not constitute a fair chase."

Proponents of the bear-baiting ban, some from the Humane Society of the United States, wore "Don't Feed The Bears" lapel badges and echoed Moran by claiming that bear baiting is not sportsmanlike.

The information Ruskin provided for readers is that more than 2,000 black bears are harvested a year in Alaska. Of these, only 100 to 300 are taken over bait, mostly in the Fairbanks area, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Matanuska-Susitna area. Matt Robus, wildlife conservation director for Alaska Fish and Game, said bear baiting is an important means of bear control in those areas.

According to Robus, there is no proof to the allegation that bait stations cause bear to like human food and then make them become dangerous because they turn to cabins and campgrounds for more. "A properly conducted baiting operation does not necessarily lead that bear to associate humans with food.", he said. "Rather, the bear learns to associate that particular spot in the woods with food."

Representative Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, testified that the bear population would be difficult to control in his state without baiting. "It will take away our management tool," he said.

Subcommittee chairman, Maryland Republican Wayne Gilchrest, asked Peterson about reports he'd heard that some bear baiters use "Twinkies" as bait. "I'm not aware of anybody using "Twinkies" in Minnesota. We're not that kind of people," retorted Peterson to much laughter.

Becoming serious, Peterson said that without baiting, nuisance problems with bears getting into neighborhoods and rummaging through people's garbage would increase. Moran countered that baiting contributes to those very problems, by acclimating bears to human food and making them more likely to approach people and homes.

Representative Elton Gallegly, the bill's other primary sponsor who represents the urban areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura, California, told the Subcommittee that federal policy needs to be more consistent. He noted that while the National Park Service does not allow bears to be fed, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management defer to state authorities on the matter. "If it is wrong and reckless to feed bears in parks, it is also wrong to do so in national forests and on BLM lands," he said.

National Bear Hunters Defense Task Force members Steve Haleen, a past president of the Michigan Bear Hunters Assoc. and Rick Posig, President of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Assoc., along with William P. Horn and Rob Sexton of the U. S. Sportsmen's Alliance also testified at the hearing.

According to Richard P. Smith, author of "WHAT IF "D" HAD PASSED?" which was published in the September 2002 issue of the 'Michigan out-of-Doors' magazine, Michigan's bear population should have reached 17,000 that year. He reported that hunting is the primary means of managing bear numbers in Michigan and that hunters have been doing an excellent job, increasing the bear population slowly while keeping conflicts with humans reasonably under control.

Far fewer licenses are available in Michigan than the number of people who want to hunt, proved in fact by the 11,000 applications granted to the 54,000 hunters who hoped to be lucky enough to have one for the 2003 hunt this year. Of these 11,000, some will have unforeseen circumstances that prevent them getting their bear license and its also suspected that many animal rights anti-hunting activists put in for an application although they have no intention whatsoever to hunt. Others will get their license, but will have an unsuccessful hunt whether they stalk, bait or use dogs.

Smith writes, were hunting bear with dogs and bait outlawed in Michigan in 1996 through passage of Proposal "D", two of the most effective hunting methods for managing bear would have been eliminated and it also would have taken wildlife management out of the hands of professionals and left it up to the whim of voters, many of whom don't understand wildlife management.

According to Smith, "surveys of Michigan residents have confirmed that many don't even know black bears live in the state. 42% of respondents in northeastern Lower Michigan describe bears as being "rare" 'or "absent" even though they're common there. Knowledge of Michigan's bear population is even worse in the southern part of the state." As for the Upper Peninsula, no statistics were given, although most Yoopers know that the greatest percentage of Michigan's black bear are not "Troll Bear", but live above the Mackinaw Bridge instead.

With the dense woods and hilly terrain in the U.P., hunting black bear by stalking and not with bait or dogs, makes it extremely difficult to come within shooting range of the critters. This can result in wounding rather than "clean" kills. It also increases the chance of unwittingly shooting at a female with cubs nearby or at cubs that may have been orphaned.

Most opponents of the bear-baiting ban feel that it should not be left to the federal government or the nation's voters to decide what's best for each state's bear population with a blanket proposal that would affect all states. "What's true in one habitat and state is generally not true from state to state or habitat to habitat and that's why state management works better than federal management," writes retired U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service wildlife biologist Jim Beers.

When attacks by bear on humans occur in National Parks, where bear hunting is prohibited, the animal welfare people sound the alarm. "Look what happens when you feed the bear", they say. But, what they don't understand is that bear populations in these parks are largely being allowed to go unchecked and when any animal is hungry and desperate for food, they will take any means to satisfy their hunger.

When there is ample natural food for bear to dine on, they will rarely visit bait stations. Many wildlife biologists believe that most bear would never go near humans or their food products, but they most often will when there are more bear than food provided by Mother Nature. It is the law of supply and demand, and the states just can't afford to allow the federal government to interfere with the management of wildlife populations on the thousands of acres of federally owned land in each state, which is exactly what will happen should H.R. 1472 become law.

The fact that two-thirds of the states that allow bear hunting don't allow baiting should not be offered as a deciding factor in the baiting issue, as has been done by a Humane Society of the United States spokesman. According to Jim Beers, the states are the Constitutionally authorized managers of bears and there are different circumstances in each state. If 18 of the 27 bear hunting states can manage without baiting, that's they're choice. But, let's be reminded that they still have the right to change their mind and they won't be able to do that once baiting is forever outlawed on all federally owned land.

Syndicated columnist Babe Winkleman points out that the Humane Society of the United States has pushed lawmakers in several states to ban bear baiting; Colorado in 1992, Oregon in 1994, Washington in 1996, and it almost happened in Michigan in 1996 with Proposal "D". Moran, with support from the Humane Society, has also tried to sneak this legislation into federal law a couple of times in the last few years.

Bear attacks on humans do not all occur in just the states that allow baiting. It might even be possible that states that do not allow bear hunting with dogs, bait, or both are seeing an increase in dangerous encounters with hungry bear while those that have good management plans overseen by their state agencies are not.

Winkleman believes that the Humane Society of the United States feels that the end justifies the means and that they're more than willing to manipulate the non-hunting public with misinformation that plays to their emotions. He writes that the Society will continue to attack hunters and the sport of hunting "on the margins" in an attempt to further their larger agenda: the abolition of sport hunting.

Much of the research this reporter has done indicates that John Q. Public is being presented with a "sell" by the anti-hunting organizations directly aimed at emotions instead of logic and fact. The "sell" is made in such a way as to cause people to visualize "Winnie The Pooh" getting his furry fanny shot at while his head's in the Hunter's Honey Pot and when that comes to mind, "Down With Baiting" phone calls are made to Washington.

The anti's don't want folks to visualize everyone's favorite Pooh Bear starving or cannibalizing his mate and offspring, were he to have any, or having to forage for miles outside of the Hundred Acre Woods in search of something to eat. But that's just what will happen when all his bear food has been eaten by his rapidly increasing number of bear buddies or when Mother Nature holds back on the rain that would make the berries plump and juicy instead of nonexistent.

Since humans first set foot on Earth, men have stood at the top of the food chain. We've developed tried and true methods to remain at the top, baiting of game included. Hunting is our heritage and if this were not nature's intention, we'd still be sitting in our caves sucking on rocks. Hunting, as well as fishing and small-scale farming were the means by which mankind survived until such time as sweatshops for beef, pork, and poultry became the norm.

It's just too bad the anti's don't put the same effort into educating John Q. Public about the life history of the critters that become the packaged meat he buys at the market, often sold under light from red colored light bulbs or artificially colored with injections to make it look more palatable. A nicely cooked bear roast, steroid free as nature intended, beats beef tenderloin any day, especially beef pumped out of breeding farms as fast as they can get the cattle big enough to stick, bleed, and slaughter.

That we've come out of our caves with the forethought to develop excellent state programs to manage individual bear populations according to the needs created by bears residing in different habitats in different states is commendable. That the anti-hunting organizations want to put an end to this in the interest of a "fair chase" is not. Overpopulation and needless starvation, which also contributes to dangerous encounters between humans and bears, is not fair either and to allow that is a cruel, despicable act by humans who should know better.

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