Saturday, May 07, 2005

Hair of the Wolf that Bit 'Ya

The Associated Press and the Jackson Hole Star-Tribune of Wyoming reports that three bear hounds were killed by a wolf pack in Northern Idaho.

Sorry, but it seems to me that's the breaks when you hunt bears in the Spring when they have cubs and so too do other large animals like wolves.

The man was running bear on public land too -- while making a private profit selling these hunts to his clients. This is not "a guy" hunting his own dogs for sport, but a commercial business ($2,000 or more per day) chasing bears at a time when they should reasonably be left alone.

This wolf and hound "alteraction" occured in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness which has a population of about 350 wolves.

You would think someone hunting a place called "The River of No Return Wilderness" would get the hint that there is an implied risk, and that this risk is multiplied if you are chasing bear, but you would be wrong. This smart fellow says the wolves are to blame for protecting their pups and that they should all be shot or moved .... so that he can continue to make a private profit off of public lands without any risk from wolves at all.

"If my livestock or animals get off of my property and endanger anybody, hurt anybody, or destroy any private property, I'm liable for it," Travis Reggear the owner of the hounds said. "I'd like them (state and federal officials) to be responsible for their animals' actions."

Apparently this fellow does not understand that the wolves were not off of "their" property -- they were in a Federally protected wilderness area where motorized vehicles of any kind are prohibited. And they are wild animals, not sheep dogs or hounds.

Mr. Reggear does not seem to understand that he left his house that morning with a truck load of hounds, guns and tracking equipment to chase wild and fierce animals over the American wilderness. That wilderness did not get up that morning with any intention of chasing him or his dogs around his living room. If bad things happen when people take dogs into wilderness areas, that's the breaks. The risk is assumed by the man (if not by the dogs).

As to the irony of the fact that Mr. Reggear's hounds were bit by the "hair of the dog" they were chasing -- well you know that went right over his head.


Brian Workman said...

I enjoy your site and your daily dose ,but I felt like I should respond to your perspective on Spring Bear hunting. Granted any hunter that sets out to use a dog to find game, especially potentially deadly game, must weigh the risks. The point I want to stress is that the same wildlife managers that have re-introduced wolves to the area in question have also established the season that a bear may be pursued. This is due to their understanding that by the time a season starts in Idaho and Utah, bear cubs are old enough to tree with their mother and at that point a hunter is required by law to move quickly from that area.
It seems fair to stand up for this activity ,however, I agree with you that this citizen is up in the night if he expects any government protection against a wild animal that is in its own territory. Although many of the hound hunters I know lament the re-introduction of wolves to their hunting areas, the question has been asked and answered and we now have wolves around us. Best wishes and happy hunting,

PBurns said...

Hi Brian --

Bear sows are not always with their cubs, especially at bait stations, and female bears killed in the Spring leave a predictable number of cubs orphaned. These cubs die miserabe deaths from starvation. Females bears with cubs will often scout ahead of their cubs leaving them up a tree as much as a mile back.

Dr. Lynn Rogers is the #1 black bear biologist in the world, and he is also a life-long hunter. He worked with the Minnesota State Archery Association and Legislature to evaluate bear and move it to big game status in Minnesota. He then worked with the Minnesota DNR to establish hunting regulations, and when the legislature proposed a ban on hunting over bait in 1975, he testified in defense of hunting over bait. This is a bear expert who is a life-long supporter of hunting, but he is not a fan of spring bear shoots for reasons he make clear in his paper on bear family groups (see )

"In my experience as a hunter, hounds are usually started from a bait that bears visit or from where a bear crossed a road. To find the road crossing, hunters look for tracks or put a hound on the hood and drive until the hound smells a bear and bellers.

"All cubs orphaned in the spring die. When a mother is killed in the spring, her cubs begin a slow death. At first, the cubs wait quietly for her in the safety of a tree. As the pain of hunger grows in their bellies, they begin to squall for her. Eventually, they are killed by a predator or die slowly of starvation. Cubs' mouths are still adapted mainly for sucking in April and early May, and their teeth are not yet developed enough to chew vegetation. In late May and June, they begin eating solid food but they still need the mother's rich milk to survive and grow. Dr. George Kolenosky, an Ontario MNR biologist, studied seven cubs that were orphaned between May 24 and June 4 and died of starvation 11 to 30 days later. In the 10 hours preceding their deaths, they lay on the ground unable to get up when a person approached. As cubs weaken with starvation, they become increasingly vulnerable to predation, so not all cubs get to the final stage of weakness witnessed in that study.

"The use of dogs to hunt bears from April 15 to May 15 means that mother bears and their dependent cubs are being disrupted when the cubs are most vulnerable and that the mothers are being chased when they are still in a state of semi hibernation."

How common are orphan cub starvations? In Ontario, back when they had a legal Spring bear hunt, they estimated that during the spring hunt 1/4 of all the bears shot were female (about 1,000 bear) and these female deaths resulted in about 270 orphaned cubs falling victim to starvation.

Are 270 orphan cubs per 4,000 bear deaths a significant number? That depends on how you calculate it and whether you think a few hundred extra starving bears cubs is a necessary and forgivable part of hunting commerce.

In truth, the life of a young bear is not easy under the best of circumstances. Male bears kill a large percentage of cubs (perhaps 1/3) and disease and starvation occur to some degree with or without a hunt. That said, we protect every other form of animal in the Spring, so why not bear? The answer to this appears to be two-fold: Some people still consider bears vermin, while those that engage in big-game hunting tend to be wealthy and well-connected politically and they want something big to shoot in the Spring.

Is Spring bear hunting necessary to control their numbers? The answer here seems to be a pretty clear no -- most states do not have a Spring hunt season and do fine controlling numbers in the fall when real trophies are to be found.


Brian Workman said...

It appears that I stand corrected, I suppose that my perspective has been shaped by personal experience of hound hunting and that of hunting partners. Fortunately, I can account for many ethical and conservation minded bear hunters here in Utah. Thank you for the enlightenment, although I doubt that the guides making a living from depredation will take notice.
Yours in Sport,
Brian Workman