The U.S. Forest Service should retire its fictitious Smokey Bear mascot if the agency cannot protect real bears roaming its woods, the Humane Society of the United States maintains.
The organization condemned the agency on Tuesday for allowing states like Idaho to continue bear-baiting practices.
Bear baiting involves using dead livestock, meat or sweet-smelling foods to lure bears for hunters.
In a statement, the Humane Society called it hypocritical to use Smokey Bear to play on the public’s love of bears at the same time it permits cruel and unfair bear-hunting practices on forest land.
“Bear baiting is the moral and sporting equivalent of shooting a bear in a cage at a zoo,” society vice president Wayne Pacelle said. “It is apparent that only make-believe bears get a fair shake from the Forest Service.”
The Forest Service last week issued a policy that places bear-baiting practices under state regulations. The agency said the new policy reaffirms its commitment to working with states, many of which have seen controversy recently over bear baiting.
The Humane Society, Fund for Animals and other animal protection groups had asked the Forest Service to ban the practice. The agency agreed in 1993 to a ban in Wyoming while it finalized a national policy. With release of the new policy, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said it could reinstate bear baiting this spring under state regulation.
But Pacelle said even officials with the Forest Service have opposed the practice, citing a 1990 letter from some regional foresters complaining about littering problems, the difficulty of monitoring baiting and bans on hunting other game with bait.
Still, the Humane Society, with 2.3 million members, said public scrutiny may accomplish what the Forest Service cannot.
With recent elections supporting bans on bear baiting in Colorado and Oregon, only 10 of the 27 states with bear hunting now allow bait to be used, the release said. Joining Wyoming and Idaho in that practice are Alaska, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. National forests serve as prime bear hunting areas in all those states.