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“We conclude that the Wisconsin bear hunting season did not show clear evidence of reducing nuisance complaints during 1995-2004, probably because hunting was not effectively designed for that goal.” —  A. Treves study, Nelson Institute

Hunters complain that wildlife lovers are emotional and that science should be the guide. But it is hunters who consider hunting a religion with an evangelical obsession for recruitment.

So let’s look at the scientific studies, the cultural shifts, and the supposed reasons for killing bears (or any wildlife). We’ll look at snapshots of two states, California and New Jersey.

California’s bear studies show a population of 4,080 black bears in 1984, increasing to 40,005 in 2009. Their state agency proposed upping the bear kill from 1,700 to 2,000. They received 10,000 letters in opposition and dropped the increase. A statewide poll showed that three out of four Californians opposed expansion of black bear hunting while only 17 percent supported it. In addition, 83 percent opposed using packs of dogs to kill bears, and by a margin of 6-1 they supported using nonlethal means of education, abatement and avoidance to deal with bears.

As outdoor activities in California go, bear hunting is not particularly popular. Officials estimate that, at most, 1 percent of the state’s population hunts black bears. Many of the other 99 percent are appalled that anyone does. “I think most people think of it as an anachronism,” said state Fish and Game Commissioner Michael Sutton, who speculates that the state’s voters may soon ban the practice.

In New Jersey, 74 percent of residents favor nonlethal methods of dealing with black bears, as opposed to 20 percent in favor of killing them. Less than 1 percent of New Jersey citizens hunt at all, yet they rule their state agency.

The New Jersey Fish and Game Council said one of the most important factors that should be considered in determining approaches for management policy is “harmful human-bear interactions.” So they trumped up some.

In a study published in 2010, Edward Tavvs of Rutgers University examined New Jersey bear complaints from 2007 to 2009. He found an increase of 3,000 percent of bear complaint duplications (the state agency lying about the number of bear complaints), changes in data collection protocol (to increase complaints by using a different metric), and no standardization in how bear behaviors were logged. Tavss stated that “all of these elements expose breach of reputable and scientific protocol.” He found that bear complaints, with this corruption corrected, had declined significantly with nonlethal methods (education, aversive conditioning, and humans using bear-proof garbage cans and taking in food and birdfeeders).

Bear complaints decreased while bear populations increased. “There is no relationship between the number of bear-related complaints and the bear population. (The relationship is between the amount of available human-based food and the bear population.)”

His findings are “consistent with previously shown data that bear hunts (i.e., decreasing the bear population) have no effect on the number of complaints (and) is contrary to the hypothesis that the bear population needs to be culled in order to decrease complaints.”

The University of Wisconsin’s Nelson Institute found that the number of bears killed in the hunt and bear complaints increased in the same years.

Bear/human conflicts are not solved by killing bears but are solved by nonlethal means. We can live peacefully with a lot of bears, if educated and proactive.

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I sent Tavvs’ study to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources bear biologist Linda Olver, and then followed up with a call. She was extremely testy and rigidly cited the need “to control the bear population” despite this science. She feigned the higher purpose of “carrying capacity.” She claims that in planning to kill over 5,000 bears, the DNR is using the lower estimate of 22,000 bears in Wisconsin. But California has 40,000 and is killing 1,700 bears. So the “science” seems pretty inconsistent.

The Wisconsin DNR encourages feeding bears for months to lure them for an easy kill. Feeding bears creates “nuisance” bears that get killed for looking for human food. Baiting also encourages fertility, multiple cubs and increased population. Lowering bear fertility would occur naturally if human food sources were controlled and deer and bear baiting was outlawed.

In 2003 during the New Jersey hunt, a dying cub stopped traffic. Drivers pulled over along the highway, and people wept. “We should apologize to the bears,” said a bystander.

Most people want humane coexistence with wild beings. The emotional need of hunters to kill is not good science. The general public should set the parameters, not those vested in killing who run our state agency.

July 10: Bear dog training on free-roaming black bears

Patricia Randolph of Portage is a longtime activist for wildlife. madravenspeak@gmail.com

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