Commission Clarifies Bear-Baiting Prohibition

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The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission on Oct. 3 took aggressive action to protect black bears in North Carolina by unanimously passing a resolution to interpret more strictly the state’s “bear-baiting statute.” This law prohibits the taking of bears “with the use or aid of any salt, salt lick, grain, fruit, honey, sugar-based material, animal parts or products, or other bait.”

The new interpretation of the bear-baiting statute makes it illegal to place candy blocks and subsequently hunt bears in that area.

The action was prompted by a written request from the N.C. Bear Hunters Association and information provided by researchers at N.C. State University who were concerned about the health and behavioral development of bears. Some bear hunters and guides had circumvented the bear-baiting statute by hauling and dumping blocks of candy weighing up to 2,000 pounds onto their leased hunting tracts during the off-season, allowing black bears to get “hooked” on the candy, then removing the candy prior to opening day of bear-hunting season.

Before Oct. 3, the practice of “sugar hooking” — so-called because of the addictive effects of sugar on bears — was considered legal by some hunters because the candy was removed prior to the beginning of the bear season. But questions arose about the effects of candy blocks on: the health of black bears, management of bears, bear populations and distribution, and the ethics of hunting sugar-addicted bears.

“The Wildlife Commission first heard of this practice three years ago, and use of candy blocks has escalated every year since then,” said David Cobb, chief of the Commission’s Wildlife Management Division. “Around these bait sites, we are seeing bears with health and behavioral problems.”

Along with a decline in dental health, black bears hooked on the candy blocks also change their behavior, losing their fear of humans and staying in close proximity to the enormous blocks of candy, which can be made of bubble gum, licorice, chocolates or assorted hard candies.

Cobb and an N.C. State University doctoral student, Tim Langer, in July observed bears behaving strangely and in close proximity to a candy block.

“It’s very unusual to see adult bears so near each other, but that’s what’s happening at these candy blocks,” said Langer, whose research into Hyde County black bear populations is funded in part by a Commission grant. “The bears didn’t run away when we approached them. They appeared too sick to move.”

Hyde County isn’t the only place where bears are tempted by candy blocks. Earlier this year, the Commission received a report of a trucking company that was asked to deliver candy blocks to Hyde, Bladen and Haywood counties — a statewide arrangement that caught the attention of the N.C. Bear Hunters Association.

“North Carolina has recently become [subject to] a number of ill-advised or unscrupulous individuals and organizations who have taken to the practice of ‘sugar hooking’ … intended as a means of circumventing our current prohibitions on hunting bear with the use or aid of bait,” wrote Jim Noles, president of BHA, in a Sept. 9 letter to the Commission. “The unrelenting feeding of sugar-rich substances caused a pattern of bear behavior that results in the bears’ continued visitation to the feeding sites long after the sugary substances are visually removed to coincide with the commencement of bear-hunting season.”

Noles’ letter also requested that the Commission “undertake appropriate measures for injunctive relief.”

Now, with the Commission’s more specific interpretation of the existing bear-baiting statute, candy blocks no longer will be allowed. Wildlife enforcement officers will begin issuing citations to individuals who hunt in areas where candy blocks are used to bait bear.

Violation of the law constitutes a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by a two-year revocation of a hunting license, a fine of $2,000 or more, court costs, and a $2,232 replacement fee, if a bear is killed.

Since its inception in 1947, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been dedicated to the wise-use, conservation, and management of the state’s fish and wildlife resources. Nineteen wildlife commissioners create and maintain laws and regulations governing hunting, fishing and boating activities based on input from the Commission’s wildlife and fisheries biologists, wildlife enforcement officers, educators, engineers and administrative staff.