New Hampshire wildlife officials recently announced that starting in 2016, hunters will be banned from using chocolate to bait bears. The decision came about after a number of bear deaths in 2014 that are believed to have been caused by an ingredient in chocolate, theobromine, that is poisonous to certain animals.

Last September, the deaths of four black bears near the same bait site in northern New Hampshire made national headlines and spurred officials to review bear baiting regulations. According to the Union Leader, the state Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve the ban, making New Hampshire the first state to prohibit chocolate for bear baiting.

“This is going to have a ripple effect somewhere else,” said Strafford County Commissioner Barry Carr. “People are going to look to New Hampshire to monitor this and see how it works, and either do something or not do something based on the New Hampshire experience, so I truly hope we get some good data for a logical decision down the road.”

Chocolate is a popular ingredient in bait piles due to its relative affordability and effectiveness in drawing the animals in. However, darker types of chocolate also contain high levels of theobromine, which is toxic to many animals. In large quantities, chocolate can even prove fatal to adult black bears. Last September wardens found two adult females and two cubs dead near a bait site in northern New Hampshire. The bait included an excessive amount of chocolate in the form of doughnuts, chocolate mint, and roughly 90 pounds of baker’s chocolate, which contains the highest levels of theobromine. A necropsy showed that the bears died from heart failure triggered by the chocolate.

“This hasn’t been a very easy issue, and has been in deliberation for months,” said Cheshire County Commissioner Robert Phillipson. “No one wants to see wildlife die needlessly, whether it’s a bear or a grey squirrel. This is probably the best compromise to resolve the situation.”

Hunters have until 2016 to use their current stockpile of chocolate. Those who use chocolate after the ban takes effect will face up to $1,000 in fines and a revocation of their hunting license for one year. Due to the unprecedented nature of the ban, officials said that penalties will be enforced in a case-by-case basis.

“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,” Hillsborough County Fish and Game commissioner Walter Morse told the Concord Monitor.

Officials say that intentional and significant use of chocolate for baiting however, will not be tolerated. White chocolate, which includes low amounts of theobromine, is also not included in the ban.

Image from Brian Stansberry on the Wikimedia Commons

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