Mainstream Media Fueling False Narratives About Missouri’s First Bear Hunt

A bear in a meadow
Shutterstock

Yesterday the state of Missouri opened its first black bear hunting season in modern state history.

Black bears were once essentially eliminated from the state, but now their populations have recovered to a high enough level that the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) determined the implementation of a sustainable hunt was warranted for managing the population.

The recovery of the species to a robust enough level to be managed alongside the state’s other iconic species like deer and turkey should be celebrated as a rousing conservation success story.

But instead of crediting conservation efforts with helping the species rebound, the national media is fueling false narratives and misguidedly attacking the hunt as something that will be detrimental to the future of the species in the state. This media frenzy follows shortly after irrational hysteria caused the bear hunting season in New Jersey to be canceled and likely sets the stage for future emotionally based controversies regarding black bear hunting in America.

Outdoor Life, among others, voiced support for the bear hunting season and was quick to call out the misinformation campaign spun by mainstream media outlets.

Bears were historically common throughout the state but unregulated marketing hunting caused bears to be driven out of the state long before hunting regulations and wildlife management were popular concepts. Bear meat was prized by early pioneers for its pork-like taste and the variety of uses for bear fat – including candles, soap, cooking oil, and musket grease. Bears were in high demand on the frontier, which meant they were long ago hunted at unsustainable rates across much of the country, and especially in Missouri.

By 1850 bears had grown rare in Missouri. By 1900, black bears had pretty much vanished from the state. The last successful bear hunt in Missouri is believed to have been in 1931.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, there was no significant black bear population in Missouri up until the 1950s, when proactive efforts to reintroduce bears into nearby got underway. From there, transient bears found their way into Missouri and bolstered the small remnant population of bears that held out in Missouri.

Today, there are estimated to be as many as more than 800 bears in the state possible, and the population continues to climb each year. Missouri’s bears are also one of the most carefully studied bear populations in the nation.

As a result, the rules and regulations for the state’s new bear season were meticulously planned, and striking a balance between offering hunting opportunities and ensuring the sustainability of the species was a significant priority for the MDC.

The first legally hunted bear in the state was reportedly shot yesterday in the southwest part of the state. While national media sources have fueled false narratives about the hunt, the local news coverage has been more objective.

Instead of using this as an opportunity to highlight the incredible scientific research being undertaken by the MDC, publications like Newsweek and NPR have used this opportunity to spread misconceptions about bear hunting and trash the MDC.

Instead of focusing on science-based and data-driven opinions from actual bear experts employed by the MDC, most mainstream media accounts instead amplified the opinions of anti-hunting extremists falsely positioning themselves as wildlife experts.

The reality is that a stringent permitting process guiding the Missouri bear hunt, and the bear harvest will be strictly monitored to ensure it complies with a quota system specifically designed to ensure that no more than 40 bears are harvested during the 10-day season. While it’s true that 400 tags were issued for the hunt, bear hunting has low success rates, and the hunting season will be closed if and when 40 bears are taken, which means at least 360 of those hunters will be left eating tag soup instead of bear stew.

Furthermore, considering Missouri prohibited baiting and hunting with hounds as possible methods, the success rates for bear hunters there will be even lower than in most other states. Hunters are also prohibited from taking bears accompanied by other bears, a stipulation that was instituted to prevent hunters from shooting female bears with cubs in tow.

Most mainstream media articles have catered to narratives being bushed by the Humane Society of the United States instead of relying on the information made readily available by more reliable sources like the MDC, or Safari Club International, a conservation group that helped fund research and conservation efforts focused on restoring a sustainable population of bears in Missouri.

The deceptive media coverage about the bear hunting season is perhaps best exemplified by the Newsweek article that uses the term “trophy hunting” ten times.

Trophy hunting is just a buzzword used to deceive folks who don’t know much about hunting into thinking that the sole purpose of the hunt is to put antlers on the wall, or in this case, a bearskin rug on the floor. The truth is that state law requires bear hunters to harvest meat from any bear they shoot, and bear meat is actually one of the most versatile and best tasting wild game meats on the market. The article also conveniently ignores mentioning any of the population management implications of the hunt or the fact that it is one of the most carefully regulated bear hunts in the nation.

The NPR article cites groups like the Center for Biological Diversity and Bear Defenders instead of including any information from actual bear management experts employed by the MDC.

These staunch anti-hunting groups are certainly entitled to their opinions, but their emotional rhetoric should not be shaping scientific management plans or influencing the implementation of hunting seasons shaped by actual bear experts employed by the state agency tasked with developing those scientific management plans.

Poorly written hit pieces like the NPR and Newsweek articles are simply meant to trash hunters and hunting under the guise of expertise. Neither story actually explores the cultural history or ecological dynamics behind the bear hunt and instead hijacks the word “conservation,” even though conservation efforts in America have long been driven by the hunting community from both a financial and awareness standpoint.

These intentionally misguided articles are even more puzzling, considering the anti-hunting groups driving these dishonest messaging campaigns already lost this battle in the court of public opinion earlier this year.

With the hunts underway, they’re now launching a last-ditch effort to smear the MDC and the state’s bear hunters, even though public input was a major factor in shaping the regulations and ultimately making the decision to open the season in the first place.

Roughly 87 percent of the 700 comments from residents at public meetings focused on the topic were in favor of the highly regulated hunting season, and 89 percent found MDC’s management plans to be reasonable.

Disingenuous messaging around bear hunting is counterintuitive to actually advancing science-based bear management and puts a pessimistic spin on what should be a celebrated conservation success story for one of America’s most iconic species.

For more information on the thriving bear population in Missouri or additional details surrounding the guidelines for the bear  hunting season in Missouri, check out the videos below.

A beer bottle on a dock

STAY ENTERTAINED

A beer bottle on a dock