By Ted Siefer
MANCHESTER, N.H. (Reuters) - Wildlife officials in New Hampshire will hear arguments on Wednesday over a proposal to bar bear hunters from using chocolate as bait, following the deaths of four bears last fall who were poisoned by the sweet.
Hunters, who have long used chocolate as bait, say the proposal is an overreaction.
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Fish and Game officials strongly backed the ban after lab results showed conclusively that four bears were killed by eating chocolate in September.
The two female bears and two cubs were found dead within 50 feet of a baiting site that had been laden with donuts, chocolate mints and 90 pounds of baking chocolate. Necropsies determined they were otherwise healthy and died due to an overdose of theobromine, a naturally occurring ingredient in chocolate.
The compound is also poisonous to dogs, raccoons, foxes and other animals.
"We've tried to discourage using chocolate in bear bait," Evan Mulholland, the legal coordinator for the state's Fish and Game Department said on Wednesday. "It hasn't worked."
The New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission will hear public comments in Concord, New Hampshire, on Wednesday evening and is expected to vote on the proposed ban next month. If approved, the ban would go into effect for the black bear hunting season that starts in September and runs through November.
A majority of U.S. states allow for the limited the hunting of black bears.
New Hampshire has about 4,800 black bears. Hunters killed 784 of them during the 2014 hunting season, the vast majority lured with bait.
(Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Lambert)