ST. PAUL (AP) -- The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, more than 30 years after the state outlawed the use of hounds in hunting black bear, is supporting a measure to reverse the ban.
"The use of hounds would provide an additional technique to hunt bears," said Ed Boggess, DNR wildlife program manager.
A bill that passed a key House committee and is headed to the floor would give the DNR the authority to allow the use of hounds to hunt bears.
Dave Samuel of the Minnesota Trail Hounds Association, who testified in support of the bill, said the measure would give the DNR another tool for bear management.
"It's a good opportunity to help manage the bear population," he said.
The issue has been controversial in Minnesota and elsewhere. Wisconsin and Michigan allow the practice. Some have raised ethical concerns about using hounds to tree bears, where they then are shot. Another concern has been that hounds can trespass on private property when trailing bears.
The use of dogs to hunt bears was banned in 1971 when black bears were reclassified as a big-game animal, which meant that hunting seasons and regulations governed their harvest. Before that, they could be killed indiscriminantly.
Minnesota's bear population, estimated at around 30,000, has been growing in recent years and hunters have been unable to kill as many bears as the DNR would like to keep the population in check. But Boggess said if hounds are legalized for bear hunting, he wouldn't expect to see a significant impact on the harvest in the short term.
For one thing, the DNR likely would allow hound-hunting only in certain areas that have a predominant amount of public land, to avoid trespass problems, Boggess said.
While the legislation would give the DNR authority to allow such hunting, the agency still would have to develop rules and regulations, which is a formal process.
Regarding the ethics of using hounds, Boggess noted that dogs are used to pursue foxes, raccoons, coyotes and bobcats, and "there is no clear ethical difference" in pursuing those species instead of bears.
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