Bait plays heavy role in bear diets in northern Wisconsin

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Black bear

MADISON — Researchers say bear bait could be playing a role in the high density of bears in northern Wisconsin.

New research from the state Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows bear bait makes up more than 40 percent of a black bear’s diet in the region, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

Researchers sampled bear bait and native foods in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and then compared the samples to black bear tissues from 2011 to 2013. The study focused on areas with forest and wetlands in order to minimize the impact of crop cover.

“It was a study designed to better understand the ecology of bears in the state and the role that the various foods on the landscape play in the population,” said Dave MacFarland, a large carnivore specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

“That gives us information on the impact of regulations. It’s sort of a first step to better understanding the role of bait in bear diet.”

High-calorie foods such as meat, candy or cookies are often used as bait. The state doesn’t allow bait to contain any animal parts or animal by-products.

The state allows baiting from April through early October, a period that’s about three times longer than baiting periods in Michigan and Minnesota.

While female black bears have experienced increased fertility when they eat bait, researchers said more study is needed to determine how bait affects the bear population.

“It’d also be interesting to see what, in states with different policies and different regulations, what role bait is playing in the diet of those bears,” MacFarland said. “There’s some more work potentially to be done, but I think it’s an important first step in us better understanding this.”

The area is home to more than 20,000 bears.