A Congressional effort to ban bear baiting on federal land is gaining momentum in Washington.
The "Don't Feed the Bears Act" (HR 1472) was introduced March 28 by U.S. Rep. James P. Moran (D-Va.) and seeks to end bear baiting on federal lands. Despite the collective efforts of the sport hunting community, the bill has 129 co-sponsors, 45 of which signed on last week, when the bill had its first committee hearing. Minnesota Representative Colin Peterson testified against it. A representative from U.S. Sportsman Alliance said pro and con sentiment at the hearing was 50-50, according to Brian Bachman, president of the Brainerd-based North American Bear Foundation.
"We thought (the proposed ban) would end at the hearing, but it hasn't," Bachman said. "The people who signed on for it over the past week are from states where the ban would have little or no effect. It's a thinly veiled anti-hunting effort that's been attempted in several congresses without success."
In Minnesota the ban would effect the Chippewa and Superior national forests, where 15 percent of Minnesota's bear hunters hunt, said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear project leader.
"Those forests have some of the prime bear hunting areas in the state," Garshelis said. "We already have crowding issues. Those hunters in all likelihood would end up going somewhere else, probably other state land. That would make those lands that much more crowded."
Using bait to hunt bear is permitted in nine of the 27 states that have bear hunting. Wildlife managers in those states are unanimous in their support for baiting, largely because hunting it's the only viable method for hunting bear in densely forested areas. Banning baiting would reduce harvest, and harvest is the only management tool wildlife managers have in those states.
"The states have done a good job of managing bear populations and limiting the number of bear-human conflicts," Bachman said. "Black bear populations across the nation are at historic highs. Hunting helps keep those populations in check and is an important tool in reducing bear-human conflicts. This (proposed ban) would be another attempt by Big Brother in Washington to force states into unwanted action."
The proposal comes at a critical time in Minnesota bear hunting. Applications for permits have fallen about 50 percent over the past three years. This year about 16,000 hunters applied for 20,000 available permits.
"I'm not sure why the permits applications are down," Bachman said. "I've talked with (DNR wildlife chief) Tim Bremicker and (DNR wildlife resource manager) Ed Boggess and we think it has something to do with the low success rates from the past few years. Without baiting those rates would drop even lower.
"Bear hunting is different from deer," Bachman continued. "Every year about 50 percent of the bear hunters are doing it for the first time. They hunt for a few years and get discouraged, or they shoot one or two and that's all they want. The percentage who hunt every year is fairly low. If you do it on your own it's a lot of work. If you hunt with a guide it's expensive. You can't just hang a treestand and sit there and watch a field like deer hunting. It takes a lot more effort to hunt bear."
Bachman said the addition of a spring season would boost interest in bear hunting.
"That and turkey hunting would be the only game in town. A lot of turkey hunters do it because there's nothing else to hunt that time of year. Spring bear hunts are popular in the states that have them."
Bachman said it's very important for hunters to make their voices heard on the proposed baiting ban. Contact members of the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans and ask them to vote no on HR 1472. The following website can be used to find your representative and his or her contact information: http://www.house.gov/writerep/. Or call the Washington D.C. office at (800) 711-8315. In addition to contacting your representative, be certain to contact the Chairman of the Resources Committee, Richard Pombo (R-CA). Pombo can be reached by e-mail at: (email@example.com) or by fax at (202) 226-0861.
* Ontario's efforts to return spring bear hunting have stalled, Bachman said. "They did a survey and found a lot of support in the rural areas. But opposition in Toronto is pretty high."
* Saturday Bachman leaves for a 10-day trip to Kodiak, Alaska, where he will meet with Doug Grann from Wildlife Forever, Tim Richardson from the Brown Bear Trust and a representative from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss bear habitat projects and property purchases for set-aside areas in the Tongass National Wildlife Refuge. The areas would be roadless and provide brown bear with better habitat.
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