(This is the first of a two-part article)
Summer is starting to wind down, but the roads are still crowded with tourists from all parts of the country, not just the Northeast, and they’re here because of the wonderful advantages we have to offer- mountain views, seaside vistas, low density of population, (notwithstanding the occasional minor traffic jam), and lots of open space in a country that seems to get more congested every day. Of course, we want visitors to know about all these attractions. What we don’t want them to know (and for good reason) is how we treat our bears.
On August 1, for instance, food has been set for bears in preparation for the hunting season that begins August 31, but the word ‘hunt’ is used in a way that isn’t defined in the dictionary. Instead, a bait site is loaded (‘larded’ might be more accurate) with human junk food such as donuts. The author of an article on how to bait bears on biggamehunt.net explains, “I use sacks of cream filled cookies. A (pail) of rotting fish guts serves as a great stink bait and the final touch is a bucket of grease poured around the base of the bait barrel, particularly the kind discarded by restaurants that use deep fryers. Visiting bears step in the oozing mess and establish their own scent trail to and from the bait.”That trail, as bears learn to their peril, will help a pack of hounds as they locate their prey and drive it up a tree. More about that later.
Of course, the bears are drawn to this sugary conglomeration of fat and carbohydrates in what appears to be a free meal. In fact, it is extraordinarily expensive because it exacts a mortal cost. As the bear gorges itself, it is shot by a hunter waiting nearby. Though this method is included under the topic of bear hunting by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, there is in fact, no hunting involved – no tracking, no skill, no woodcraft, no ‘fair chase’ As defined by the Boone and Crockett hunting club, fair chase is the ethical, sportsmanlike, and lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging wild, native North American big game animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an improper advantage over such animals.” There’s nothing ethical or sportsmanlike about ambushing an animal as it eats human garbage to which it has repeatedly been lured.
Most bears are killed over bait and most are killed by non-residents who pay substantially more for a license. In fact, according to The Maine Bear Season by V. Paul Reynolds in the Northwoods Sporting Journal “ Maine’s annual bear hunt brings more than $70 million to the state’s economy. Guided bear hunts in early September, by nonresident hunters bagging their bears at baited sites, comprise the largest proportion of the annual bear kill. . . about 70 percent of the statewide bear tagged are taken by nonresident hunters who spend about a week in Maine paying guides, sporting camps and buying gas and groceries. “
The revenue generated by bear baiting – not to mention the sale of licenses whose income is a major source of funding for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife -are important reasons why this practice is supported by hunting lobbies and state officials. It’s the lazy man’s way of ‘hunting’ a bear, entailing little or no effort which is probably why it appeals so much to would-be Nimrods. Ignored is the fact that baiting bears accustoms them to human food which has a tendency to increase bear/ human conflict, and it goes against the Department’s own advice to the public – Don’t Feed The Bears.
Baiting is pure deception aided by the olfactory attraction of unusual smells not normally available to a hungry animal. The result is that its sense of wariness and survival is beguiled by a culinary set up designed by our self-labeled superior species to kill. There’s nothing fair or humane or sporting about it.
Next Time– Part Two: Bear Hounding and Trapping
For more perspectives about Maine’s wildlife and other related matters, tune into a new radio program Into The Wilderness broadcast Tuesday evenings from 8-8:30 on WMPG FM 90.9.