Baiting Helps Achieve Bear Harvest Objectives

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A recent proposal to ban bear baiting on federal lands would seriously hamper bear population management in Minnesota and could cause an increase in bear-human conflicts when natural foods are scarce, according to officials of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

All Great Lakes states and most northern states and Canadian provinces allow bear hunters to use baits, said Lou Cornicelli, big game specialist for the Minnesota DNR.

"Baiting is a very effective way to locate bears in the dense forests and swamps where Minnesota bears live," Cornicelli said. "This method also provides a clear shot in dense cover, which minimizes the chance of losing wounded game."

By contrast, states that do not allow hunters to bait for bears tend to have open habitat where bears can be seen from long distances, or have milder climates where bears den later in the year. Most of these states allow hunters to use dogs to pursue bears. Hunting bears with dogs is illegal in Minnesota.

Minnesota statutes specifically authorize the use of bait for bear hunting provided the bait is biodegradable and is placed no more than two weeks before the start of bear season.

"We consider the use of bait for taking bears to be an ethical hunting method," said Ed Boggess, assistant director of the DNR Wildlife Division. "It is far from the sure thing that opponents contend; on average, one in four bear hunters successfully harvest an animal."

About three-fourths of Minnesota's approximately 15,000 bear hunters use bait. The average hunter sets out two or three bait sites each year, according to Dave Garshelis, bear research biologist with the DNR's forest wildlife research group in Grand Rapids.

Minnesota bear hunters who do not use bait generally hunt near corn fields or in oak stands, both of which attract bears during the fall. However, unlike states farther south, oak stands are sparse through much of Minnesota's bear range.

Minnesota's bear population is estimated at 20,000 to 30,000. In the absence of hunting, Garshelis estimates the population would grow by more than 20 percent per year.

"Ultimately, the bear population would be limited by starvation, cannibalism and disease, or by humans killing 'nuisance' bears," Garshelis said.

Allowing firearms deer hunters to take bears during November is not a good alternative for Minnesota, Cornicelli said. Most bears in Minnesota den by late September and would be largely unavailable to hunters by November. The bears that would be taken by firearms deer hunters would be ones either rousted from dens, or groggy and just about ready to den. It is illegal in Minnesota to disturb a bear in a den after Nov. 1.