CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — New Hampshire officials on Wednesday banned the use of chocolate as bait starting next season after four bears were found dead at one bait site last fall.
The Fish and Game Department approved the new rule restricting what hunters can use to lure bears starting in 2016, The Concord Monitor (http://bit.ly/1PH9OWL) reported. They pushed the ban back a year after hunters complained they had already bought their bait supplies for this season, which typically begins in September.
After a sow and three cubs died at a bait site in Stark, toxicology and necropsy reports said they died from a toxic level of theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate products.
Opponents of the ban packed a public hearing last month where several hunters said they've never seen dead animals near bait sites and that the chocolate ban is an overreaction that would drive up costs and keep out-of-state hunters from visiting. Other hunters said it's just as easy to bait bears with natural lures such as corn.
For this season, hunters in New Hampshire will still be able to use doughnuts, pastries or other treats with chocolate or cocoa derivatives. The state in 2011 advised hunters to stop baiting with chocolate.
"It's going to be the most effective method of eliminating the risk of chocolate toxicity from our wildlife," said Kent Gustafson, the department's wildlife programs administrator.
Maine voters last year rejected a measure that would have banned bear hunting using bait, dogs or traps, and activists in New Jersey have been pushing for a ban on all bait for years. North Carolina last year approved baiting as a way to manage a growing bear population.
According to the Monitor, commission member Walter Morse of Hillsborough County urged discretion.
"I don't think we've got any evidence that one chocolate doughnut has ever killed a bear," he said. "I just hate to see a guy arrested for, you know, going out there with just a little bit of chocolate which isn't going to do a thing."
Last year the state issued 1,400 bear bait permits, which doesn't include bears baited on private property. Hunters using bait in 2014 took 52 percent of the total harvest compared with just 15 percent in 1992. The state's black bear population is estimated at 5,700; in its management plan, Fish and Game says the state should have 4,700 bears.