Hunting Does Not Make Bears Afraid Of People – Dead Bears Tell No Tales

Both Florida and Yellowstone are citing the need to have a hunt to make bears more afraid of people.



At the risk of starting a controversy, there is no evidence that hunting makes bears more afraid of people.

First, dead bears can’t learn anything.

Second, they are basically loners. How can they spread the word?

Third, when they hear a clap of thunder (a gunshot) and feel the hit from a distant rifle, do they connect that to people or to thunder?

We have watched how bears respond to distant gunshots—basically no reaction. Hunters have told us of wounding bears at close range at baits only to have the bears return and be killed the next day.

At 6:58 PM on September 12, 2010, a hunter killed Rose, one of RC’s three female cubs, adjacent to this community. Shortly, RC and the remaining 2 cubs were at a feeding site acting the same toward people as usual.

At 7:45 PM, she was at another feeding site. Same story. Over the next two days, she made her usual rounds responding to people as usual.

I don’t see how hunting makes bears afraid of people. I don’t see how chasing bears with dogs makes them afraid of people.

I do know that in thunderstorms some bears climb big white pines. Bears grow up fearing thunder and lightning and becoming accustomed to it.

I don’t see how Florida and Yellowstone can have any data to back up their claim that hunts will make bears more afraid of people—at least not any data that couldn’t be better explained in other ways. I can see how hunting can control bear numbers to what people will tolerate.

People will not coexist with animals they fear, and wildlife agencies often play the fear card to gain support for their bear management programs. Stating that they need to have hunts around Florida and Yellowstone to make bears more afraid of people seem to be examples of that.

In actuality, actions that make bears more afraid of people can backfire when a bear is startled or cornered, causing them to view the person as an over-dangerous foe the bear must defend itself against or that a grizzly mother must defend her cubs against.

Where grizzly mothers are not so afraid of people, mothers are less likely to view people as foes. I mentioned in a previous update how mother grizzlies sometimes use people as human shields against male grizzlies that the mothers fear, nursing their cubs near groups of bear viewers that the males do not dare approach.

There is a need for education to insulate the public against officials who play the fear card for their various purposes. Follow the dollars.

Dr. Lynn Rogers, Biologist, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center
Ely, Minnesota.