The N.C. Wildlife Federation and its partner, the N.C. Camouflage Coalition, are asking sportsmen to oppose a proposed regulation change that would allow the use of bait to hunt black bears.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will take to public hearings next month across the state a proposed regulation change that would allow still-hunters to attract and hunt bears by the use of bait for the first six days of bear seasons in eastern North Carolina and also allow hunters in the Piedmont to take a bear during the open deer season, with a goal of reducing the statewide bear population by 25 percent.

The N.C. Wildlife Federation has published a position paper that calls the use of bait in the harvest of wildlife species “not an ethically acceptable wildlife-management technique” and said, “harvest over bait as a management technique to stabilize any wild-animal population is unprecedented, untested, unpredictable, unnecessary and is sure to raise objections from diverse groups of wildlife enthusiasts.”

Richard Hamilton, executive director of the Camo Coalition and the 37-year employee of the Commission – who retired after three years as its executive director – said hunting bears over bait “isn’t a sound approach to managing bear populations. It’s unproven, and nobody uses bait to manage any wildlife population.

“(The Commission) doesn’t know how many bears can be killed,” he said. “It’s not as if there are 1.2 million bears; there are only 16,000. Baiting for six days only almost defies explanation or understanding. Why six days? It might increase the harvest by 25 percent; it might kill more than 25 percent — or less.” 

“Maine, Michigan, Idaho and the Canadian provinces don’t allow (baiting) to manage bear, but for their guides and economic reasons. It’s a big business up there.”

North Carolina doesn’t have the huge overall bear populations of many northern states and Canadian provinces, but the Tarheel State’s eastern counties have traditionally produced the largest black bears in North Carolina. The chance to kill a giant has drawn interest and income from in-state and out-of-state hunters.

Commission officials believe the state’s bear population is essentially split between eastern and western counties, although more animals are migrating to Piedmont counties.

The NCWF suggested alternative methods of controlling bear numbers that don’t include baiting:

* Adjust the annual bag limit or have separate bag limits for different management units or areas depending on need to reduce the population;

* Adjust the season length and structure statewide or in prescribed areas of the state to address population goals;

* Adjust the timing of hunting seasons to address particular problems such as crop depredation;

* Adjust boundaries of black bear sanctuaries to expand hunting opportunities at sanctuaries permanently or seasonally, and expand hunting opportunities around de facto sanctuaries such as large federal installations, refuges, and parks;

* Schedule special hunts and specific permits with special rules and possibly for special groups in areas with especially high or troublesome black bear populations.

The Commission has scheduled a handful of public hearings next month. Bear baiting will be discussed for 30 minutes beginning at 6:30 p.m., with the regular hearing beginning at 7:

* Jan. 7, BladenCommunity College, Duplin County;

* Jan. 8, Graham Courthouse, Graham;

* Jan. 9, S. Stanley High School, Norwood;

* Jan. 14, Tri-County Community College, Murphy;

* Jan. 15, 1924 Courthouse, Newton;

* Jan. 16, The Walker Center, Wilkesboro;

* Jan. 21, Swain Auditorium, Eden;

* Jan. 22, Courthouse, New Bern;

* Jan. 23, Nash Community College, Rocky Mount.