Point of View

Why baiting bears in NC would be an unnecessary slaughter

January 21, 2014 

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A black bear walks along Sandy Ridge North Road in the late afternoon on the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare County.

JIM BOUNDS — N&O file photo

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    The N.C. Wildlife Commission urges the public to participate in its hearings and to submit comments about the proposed 2014-2015 fishing, hunting and other wildlife resource management regulations. Comments will be taken until Feb. 14. For more information, go to nando.com/wildlife.

To North Carolina black bears, I suggest moving. Personnel with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission have decided that N.C. has too many bears. They are declaring war on bears. Bears still here next fall may be administered the state’s “lethal bear technique,” which is death by gunshot.

One proposed change will open the bear season in 30 counties. Bears are so rare in these counties that a bear sighting generates news coverage. The new bear season in Wake County would run from Oct. 18, 2014, to Jan. 1, 2015.

NCWRC also proposes letting hunters on private land shoot bears over bait for at least part of the season. Wildlife officials know that bears fatten in preparation for winter hibernation and that, during the fall hunting season, bears are doubly hungry and suckers for food.

If the law passes, a hunter can place bait on the ground (such as dried corn – bears love corn), get back and shoot a hungry bear. The proposed law’s fine print is that the bear cannot be chewing or swallowing when killed. The hunter must courteously wait until the bear swallows before shooting.

Shooting over bait amounts to shooting a sitting duck – it’s more slaughter than hunting. If the baiting law is passed, there is a good chance our bears will be eliminated from the Piedmont and their populations significantly depleted in the mountains and coastal plain. This is NCWRC’s intention.

In the mountains and coastal plain, if perhaps a bear slips in and out unseen from the bait, it’s legal to release the hounds on the bear. The bear-hunting dogs will smell the bear, follow its tracks, run it down and fight it as a pack. Greatly outnumbered by dogs, maybe 15 to 1, most bears climb a tree to escape. The hunters soon catch up with the dogs since the dogs are wearing electronic tracking collars. This is high-tech bear hunting, but the treed bear gets shot the old-fashioned way – with a gun.

If by chance a bear doesn’t visit a bait pile but a naive deer stops by, the hunter can shoot the deer – baiting is currently legal for deer hunting on private land. This is a popular, effective and easy technique to kill big-game animals, as our deer hunters know.

I’m not against hunting. I admire a bear dog’s grit – bears can hold their own against a few dogs, and it’s common for dogs to get torn up or killed. Some of our bear hunters respect bears and are true conservationists.

My main concern as a wildlife biologist is not so much the absence of hunting ethics in the state’s proposals, but that the hunters will kill too many bears and seriously deplete the population.

Most complaints about bears in N.C. come from the mountains, by people unfamiliar with bears. Bears from the surrounding forests are attracted to garbage cans and seeds put out for birds. The state shouldn’t kill off our bears because city people moved into the woods and lack the ingenuity to out-think a bear coming to bird seed or garbage.

If black bears were vicious, man-killing beasts, the state’s attitude would make sense. But black bears are easy going bears. A few people have been bitten or slapped by bears in N.C., and most probably deserved it for doing something stupid to the bear. No one has been killed by a bear in N.C. The state’s plan to kill the bears will not protect us.

Bears are in the process of making a major comeback in N.C. Our forests are not overrun with bears, and N.C. forests can naturally feed and support more bears. I agree that bears are ill-suited for urban areas, but bears prefer woods. A lost bear in town wants nothing more than to find the woods. We needn’t worry that bears will take over our towns.

The proposed changes to bear hunting are an extreme approach to bear management by bureaucrats and appointed commissioners. The agency is soliciting comments on the proposed war on bears. Keep in mind that none of these people is an elected official.

John Wooding of Winston-Salem is a wildlife biologist.

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