Dixie National Forest officials are thinking about changing their rules on bear baiting - hunting bears by attracting them with bait.

The problem, foresters said, is that the bait attracts so many bears that they bother campers, hikers, and home owners near the bait stations and hunting camps.Until now, the forest has allowed bear baiting if it is done at least 100 yards from open water, public roads, and designated trails, and half a mile from houses or campgrounds.

Forest Supervisor Hugh C. Thompson said the new requirement, which was proposed after discussions with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, would reduce the area where the practice is allowed. The new regulations would ban bear baiting within 15 miles of houses, summer homes, or campgrounds.

"The reason for this proposed change is because of what we see as a dramatic increase in garbage bears," he said. These are bears that have developed the habit of raiding trash cans and camp sites.

In the past two years, the number of bears either preying on livestock or causing disturbances in campsites and around homes increased dramatically. In that time, three bears had to be killed, and one moved away from an area where it was causing trouble.

"Also this year, a young woman was mauled - fortunately not seriously - by a bear," he said.

Some wildlife biologists think bears started raiding camps after they began hanging around for easy meals from bait stations, he said.

"An increasing number of requests for baiting permits is exacerbating the problem.

"Although a bear would certainly be capable of covering the 15-mile distance from a bait station to a campground in a relatively short time, we feel that the 15-mile distance is a good compromise," Thompson said. The new rule will still allow hunting over bait, but keep it far enough from campgrounds and other inhabited areas to minimize the number of problem bears.

Jordan Pederson, non-game mammals program coordinator for the DWR, said the DWR's central office didn't work with Dixie on the change. Thompsonsays the division was contacted, but "this office wasn't." Perhaps the forest coordinated with regional DWR officials, he said.

"I know they had some problems down there in some of the campgrounds. I personally took some bear traps down there. We removed one bear, and worked with people to clean up some of the campgrounds."

Pederson told campers to put away their food in the evening and gather up garbage at night. "Within several days, as far as I know, the bears left the area, because they didn't receive a reward."

Dick Carter, coordinator of the Utah Wilderness Association, wants bear baiting ended.

"Obviously, we support Dixie's effort, but we still go one step further,' he said. "The process of baiting bears is simply unethical.

"It doesn't belong on public land. It's such an unfair advantage, in terms of the old tried-and-true hunters-versus-beast pursuit."

When you go bear baiting, he said, you put out rotten food, lure in the bruin, "and mercilessly kill it."

"The state of Utah, through the Division of Wildlife Resources, has simply got to end bear baiting."

Carter also finds it reprehensible that "hounding bears" goes on - "using dogs to pursue bears, chasing them up trees, and then chasing them back up again the next day."

Bear baiting destroys the balance of nature, Carter said. It makes the bears far less wild by training them they can find food left out in bait stations.

"More importantly, the Forest Service and BLM have got to go one step further and say we don't want bear baiting on public lands."

Because we are human, we are practical and strong; we use animals as food, beasts of burden, and experimental subjects. It's senseless to protest against that basic fact, as we have no reasonable alternative.

But we strive to be humane, and should ban unnecessary killing, maiming, and terrorizing of mammals.

(A strange caveat: I admit that I fish. I've never been able to empathize with a fish goggling around in its water world. And hunting deer for food seems acceptable to me, although I wouldn't do it: hunting probably satisfies both the physical need for food and the visceral requirements of the chase.)

A proper respect for nature requires that animals generally should be viewed as worthy fellow-citizens of the earth. There's no excuse for scaring or shooting bears, mountain lions, or puppy dogs.

Those interested in commenting on the bear-hunting rule change should write to Dixie National Forest by Oct. 14. The address is P.O. Box 580, Cedar City, UT 84720.