Who would ever think that our wolves could possibly be somewhat dependent on bear baiting for survival especially when you often hear complaints from bear hunters that wolves are over populating and they should be hunted.

Bear baiting began this year on August 14 and bear hunting will start September 1st. Currently, as I type, bear hunters are placing barrels of junk food in our forests to attract bears. Once hunting season starts this practice makes killing the bears easier because it conditions them to bait sites where hunters sit and wait to shoot their unsuspecting visitor.

Here are SOME of the items bear hunters place in our woods to attract bears. To see other items used as bait, here are a few bear bait dealers: Lucky 7, Wildwood, Big Woods. To see a previous post about bear baiting CLICK HERE.

These items are often purchased by the barrel since bears eat a lot of garbage and it can take quite a bit of time to condition them to a particular bait site.

Here is an example of the size containers bear hunters purchase.

Here's an example of how some hunters haul their bait into bait sites.

The items set as bait in the woods attracts a lot more than just bears. A variety of wildlife will visit bear bait sites including coyotes, raccoons, fox, squirrels... and wolves!

According to hunters and reports by the Voyageur Wolf Project team, wolves frequently visit bear bait sites and eat what is available.  The following was posted on Facebook August 25th, 2020 by VWP.

The following post is in response to someone asking about wolves eating the other wildlife that visit the bait sites.

This is a post by a bear hunter (Joshu John Wells) showing the number of wolves (a female with 5 pups) visiting one of his bait sites.

Joshua states "I currently have a female and 5 pups taking on my bait. They run the bear right off. It's a ton of work to have this happen, and it's only getting worse."

Keep in mind as you read this that the DNR is always telling the public not to feed wildlife but now you know the practice of feeding wild animals is completely legal for bear hunters. They get to do it every year and this year from August 14 until October 18.

You may be wondering at this point why allowing wolves to eat junk food is such a big deal, especially if you like having wolves in Minnesota. Here are the reasons why you should be concerned:

1. The wolf population. The MN DNR, special interest groups like the Minnesota Deer Hunter's Association, livestock owners, and many bear hunters claim our wolf population is way over limit and that they need to be trapped and hunted to lower their numbers and now we see Voyageur's Wolf Project stating that the bait provides wolves and their pups with valuable food during a lean time of year. How does that contribute to their numbers? 

What would happen if the wolves didn't have that food source? VWP says it is a lean time of year where prey is difficult to catch and that means less natural food is available to wolves at that time. If the wolves were left to seek only natural sources of food, especially the younger wolves, they may not survive and that would be one way nature controls their numbers, but here we have an artificial means of being fed and yet no one is researching how it contributes to, if at all, population growth. The very people who are frustrated with the number of wolves in Minnesota may be aiding in their survival and rising numbers. 

2. Potential health impact.   Chocolate and the artificial sweetener xylitol have both been known to kill wildlife and we all know that both are extremely dangerous for dogs to ingest, so how are all those pastries and candies affecting wolves? It has never been thoroughly studied so no one knows for sure but what we do know is this:

Theobromine, a bitter alkaloid of the cocoa plant which is found in chocolate, has killed wildlife around the world. Below are just a few cases:

In Sweden a red fox and badger both died after ingesting chocolate. The study concluded in those cases that "it would be wise to protect wildlife from chocolate waste." 

In 2010 in Michigan a black bear cub was found dead on a bait pile and a necropsy showed it died from theobromine poisoning. The memo released in that case said "evidence exists that baiting practices have, and can, cause mortality in bears." 

In 2015 in New Hampshire 4 bears overdosed on chocolate. Necropsy showed they died of theobromine poisoning. The lead bear researcher from the state Game and Fish Dept., Andrew Timmins, said "the amount of theobromine varies by type of chocolate used, but all can be toxic depending on how much an animal eats." He also said "it is an awful way to die. Too much theobromine in a bear's system can lead to severe illness; vomiting, hypothermia, seizures, coma, heart and respiratory failure." 

Both Michigan and New Hampshire banned the use of chocolate in bear bait after those cases. In Michigan they also have had 6 confirmed raccoon deaths caused by theobromine poisoning.

Xylitol, an artificial sweetener, was used to kill several wolves in Alaska. "According to the investigation, Rahoi purchased 14 pounds of the artificial sweetener xylitol at a Fairbanks health food store in fall 2015, and Richardson put the sweetener into rabbit carcasses to poison wolves in an effort to control the population of the predators." 

Why is this allowed? 

Even the International Wolf Center wrote about the problems with feeding wolves in their Spring 2002 magazine although their concern was habituation which could lead to wolves being euthanized (shot) by wildlife services. The Title of the article is "Don't Feed Wolves." Here is some of what they had to say:

Someone who reads this may say that the problem isn't baiting it's the people feeding wolves outside their homes but what's the difference between someone placing bait in the woods just outside their home and a person placing bait in the woods to attract bear? Do wolves differentiate between locations or people? If they understand the difference between getting food outside a home and food in the woods from bear baiters, why are they approaching cars? The only thing the two have in common is a human being.

Someone on the Voyageur's Wolf Project Facebook page asked a question about wolves becoming habituated to humans and the response seemed a bit contradictory. 

Regardless of the response by VWP it appears it is something that has never really been studied. We know wolves don't frequently approach humans, they are shy elusive animals, but we do know that several get hit by cars and killed in wolf states every year.  In just 2019 we had numerous wolves killed by car and this was something cited as a concern back in 2002 when people were feeding wolves outside their homes.

MN DNR 2019 Wolf Mortality Report

According to bear hunters the wolves see them come into the bait sites and set the bait. Remember, wolves are incredibly smart. (click images to enlarge)

This bear hunter says "while hunting on Saturday and Sunday of last weekend I saw no bears, but did see wolves on both of my bear baits. On Saturday a female wolf came in and spent 15-20 minutes working the bait pile and investigation my trail in, as well as my stand base.  She never looked up at me, but I assume she knew I was there." 

This bear hunter says "last bear hunting I had a wolf come in, looked like he was going to the bait too but then he saw me."

This bear hunter said "my wife and I pulled up close to a bait site one year and while I was at the bait site she screams like she was getting murdered. I counted to 10 and then went to see what the problem was. She saw something fury and about 10-15 yards in the woods. I went after it to see and it was a young wolf pup. I LMAO at her."

Here is an example of how smart wildlife is: I had a squirrel that I would feed on the far end of my property near a large tree. She would come down daily to get the food I set. One day I walked out of my home and there she was staring straight up at me right outside my front door, so close I was afraid she'd run inside. 

Not only is it what can be ingested by wolves that should be of concern but also what they are exposed to. Remember, wolves are not the only ones visiting the bait sites which means they are coming into contact with other wildlife like coyotes, fox, bears, etc... According to the Humane Society of the United States "the potential for disease and parasite transmission between species, especially rabies, rises." This coupled with what they are eating is a major concern not only for wolves but other wildlife. 

According to a study in the UP of Michigan called "Who Takes the Bait?"  moose even visited bait sites. A camera trap was set up at black bear bait sites from August - October in 2016 and the following were captured: 8,427 raccoons, 2,185 black bear, 768 mustelids, 215 skunk, 92 red fox, 45 white tailed deer, 29 squirrel, 22 coyote, 11 chipmunk, 9 gray wolves, 6 moose, 5 flying squirrels, 3 bobcat, 2 raven, 1 wild turkey, 1 turkey vulture, 129 unidentified small animals. 

**Now considering moose contract brain worm from white tailed deer and moose researchers here in Minnesota have proven that between 2013-2018 brain worm was responsible for 25-33% of moose mortality in the declining moose populations, this would seem very problematic. 

Also, Minnesota skunks are natural carriers of rabies and look at the number of skunks visiting the bait site in that study. 

Let's not forget mange. While any mammal can suffer from mange, the animals most likely to be brought to a wildlife rehabilitation clinic with sarcoptic mange are foxes, coyotes, and squirrels. Bears and wolves also get mange as shown below:


3. Conflict between bears and wolves. Wildlife conflict at bait sites can also occur. Of course conflicts occur in the wild but bait sites are just another way of artificially drawing wild animals together when under natural conditions they'd likely avoid one another. 

Wolf chasing bear up a tree
When wolves and bears come into contact cubs can be killed or their mother's can be killed and the cubs become orphaned. 

Which brings me to the increased demonizations of wolves.

4. Increased demonization of wolves.  There are an estimated 12,000-15,000 bears in Minnesota while there are only an estimated 2,655 wolves. While bear hunters lay tons of garbage in our woods to attract bears they become increasingly agitated with wolves for the fact they like the bait too. Bear hunters don't appreciate that wolves destroy their bait sites and eat all of the junk because there's nothing left to attract bears and then it requires the hunter to go out again and again to reset his/her bait site. They also don't like it when wolves kill visiting bears or urinate all over the place because it keeps bears at bay. 

Research has already proven that bear baiting increases the bear population because not only is August through October a lean time for wolves but also for bears. The supplemental feeding (garbage) helps bears make it through the winter and be healthy enough to produce offspring. 

So bear hunters set the bait and then complain that the wolves are attracted to the junk they left out and then they start appealing to special interest groups and like-minded politicians to push for wolf delisting and a wolf hunting season. Some even encourage poaching to deal with this "problem."

This bear hunter says "Johnny I fully agree with you there. Wolves aren't "getting" out of control, they are out of control. There have been a big number of bear hunters struggling with the wolves this year. And I just have to shake my head in disgust when I think about the priorities set by the folks down in the concrete jungle where most have never seen a wolf in the wild. The wolves have figured out the "free food" at the bear baits, and since humans are providing food, who do they not fear anymore?"

If wolves are being conditioned to approach humans because of bear bait, which no study has proven or disproven, why is it the wolves fault? Wolves need to eat and they seek their food in the wild, but bear hunters can hunt without baiting. Montana, Arizona and North Carolina, where bear baiting isn't allowed, are examples of states always listed as some of the top for bear hunting. So ask yourself why when it can be so detrimental to wolves and other wildlife does Minnesota allow it?

Whether baiting increases the wolf population or not, whether it is harmful to their health or if it conditions them to people is not the wolves fault. The fault lies solely with the humans that leave tons of rotting garbage in our woods and the people who voted in support of the law that allows them to do it.
  • Any impact to the wolf population after consuming large amounts of bear bait has never been studied.
  • The immediate or long-term effects on wolves (and other wildlife) after consuming loads of rotting baked goods and candy has not been studied.
  • The impact of countless wild creatures coming into contact with one another at bait sites over several weeks to months has never been studied. 
There is a reason bear baiting is banned in most states where hunting is allowed. The impact on the health of wildlife is a major concern for ethical wildlife biologists. Sadly, our state wildlife agency head and most of our political leaders do not share that same concern but Minnesota's wolf advocates do.

For every wolf found decomposed in the woods where a full necropsy can't be completed we should say "it's possible that wolf died of theobromine poisoning."

For every wolf hit by a car we should say "it's possible that wolf lost their fear of vehicles because of conditioning from bear baiters."

For every complaint we hear about our wolf numbers rising we should say "bear baiting is helping wolves and their pups through lean times which could be aiding in their survival rates artificially."

If they want to prove us wrong, do the research or stop baiting!

**All photos not specifically linked to a source were taken from public Facebook posts or public bear hunting forums.