Tuesday, February 15, 2005

BEAR BAITING & BAIT STATIONS ARE CRUEL

Bait stations are simple, devious devises used by hunters to attract bears, turkeys or deer. Pile enough apples, carrots, jelly donuts or sugar beets and hide behind nearby bushes, and when the hapless deer, elk or black bears gather for the feast - shoot 'em! Baiting is as cruel as it is primitive.

Bait stations are legal in twenty states, and using salt blocks to lure wildlife is another common, though often illegal practice. These crude, diabolical practices are a growing menace - and they certainly don't qualify as conservation. Baiting simply exists to satisfy hunters' need to kill.

There is no ethical or ecological justification for baiting wildlife. Indeed, this insidious hobby can and will spread diseases such as bovine tuberculosis or necrotic stomatitis. In Michigan, TB is thought to have spread from huge bait stations to several herds of livestock. Economic concerns aside, luring wildlife to their death is the moral equivalent of shooting ducks in a tub. This may appeal to Ted Nugent and his bloodthirsty tribe of rabid animal killers, but it makes no sense to me.

According to a July, 1999 article in Field & Stream, 8 states permit baiting for all big-game animals, 20 states allow baiting for deer, black bears and turkeys. And 22 states allow no baiting whatsoever. The article states that in Michigan, where unrestricted baiting has been legal for years, hunting clubs put out literally TONS OF BAIT, resulting in deer populations so dense that disaster struck. In 1994 bovine tuberculosis, spread by nose - to - nose contact of closely feeding animals, was diagnosed in a Michigan white-tailed deer. Since then, 250 other deer and a bear have been stricken.

More ominous, the virus had spread to area livestock, leading to the destruction of three herds and posing a multi-million dollar nightmare for Michigan farmers. Of course, it may have been the farmers who were the ones providing the bait, but we'll never know.

Baiting deer already is illegal in Mississippi, but legal feeding has become so prevalent that wildlife officials fear the practice has harmed other wildlife. Biologists suspect disease spread at deer feeders may explain the collapse of wild turkey populatons in some portions of the state.

Many hunters prefer their animals as trophies- objects for bagging and bragging. Hunters demand large bucks, but due to hunting pressure, large bucks are scarce on public lands. Therefore, baiting these animals may be the only way for hunters to "bag" large-antlered male deer. An entire generation of hunters know nothing about hunting except how to shoot animals as if they were sitting ducks.

Regarding animals as trophies sets in motion a wide range of unethical and illegal activities. Baiting wildlife, canned hunts, and shooting animals from aircraft are all part of this trophy animal syndrome.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the National Park Service all publish materials telling the public not to feed bears. The Forest Service, for instance, puts out materials that warn: "Do Not Feed Bears!," "Bears Are Dangerous!," and "A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear."

In a letter to the U.S. Fish & Widlife Service, the director of the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Park Service stated his opposition to baiting on national forest lands abutting Crater Lake National Park. The director wrote, "Biologically, there is no difference between a bait station and a dump. Bait stations habituate bears to human-generated food, contributing to the potential for conflicts between bears and people in the park."

Tom Beck, a hunter and a bear biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, shares a similar opinion. "I firmly believe that baiting creates nuisance bears," he says. "Black bears are naturally wary, instinctively avoiding close contact with humans. But large amounts of tasty food, easily obtained, defeats this wariness. By baiting, we create lazy bears who have been rewarded, not punished, for overcoming their fear of humans."

Bears accustomed to human foods raid campgrounds, break into cabins, approach people, and may even attack people. There are THOUSANDS of bait stations legally set up on federal lands every year, and wildlife agencies not only tolerate this destructive nonsense, but they actually contribute to it.

Baiting wildlife is morally and ecologically untenable. Canned hunts, baiting, ariel gunning, all belong to the realm of killing for pure fun. There is no way to justify this behavior using conservation ethics and it highlights how avaricious hunters have become. Hunters cannot and will not police their own ranks : there are simply too many game hogs, slob hunters and poachers. And so the baiting issue is merely one of many wildlife atrocities condoned by the hunting community.

-By Scott Palczak

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