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Conservation

The State of Bears 2010

by Dr. Dave Samuel   |  November 4th, 2010 0

Bear numbers grow, deer rules change, and school kids thrive on archery.

Despite what you may read in newspapers from people opposed to bear hunting, bear populations are on the rise all over the United States, and with an increase in bear numbers comes an increase in negative encounters with citizens. A recent survey conducted by Hanic Hristienko, bear program manager for Manitoba, spells out the problems.


Hristienko’s survey shows that 18 Eastern states/provinces have reported increasing human/bear conflicts. Many of the encounters involve backyard incidents, such as destruction of bird feeders and damage in and around garbage containers. Although bear-resistant garbage containers work, they cost $500 or more, so a lot of people shun that option.

Other bear/human encounters are more serious. Take car wrecks, for example. In 2008, more than 1,300 car/bear collisions were reported in the United States. A report in November 2009 outlined how a 700-pound black bear in Nevada smashed into 40-50 garages during the summer, causing over $70,000 in damage. That is the ultimate “problem” bear.

A 2006 survey of all state wildlife agencies showed 43,000 citizen complaints about bears each year. Hristienko found the greatest increase in complaints in recent years came from Tennessee, but other states also showed high complaint rates. The number of complaints by state per 10,000 residents (measured in counties that had bears) showed that Connecticut ranked first, followed by Georgia, Tennessee, Maryland, West Virginia, Colorado, and New Jersey. In Canada, British Columbia and Ontario were tops, with over 10,000 complaints a year. That’s a lot of conflict.

Most states relocate problem bears, and 16 of 36 agencies said they did so because of public pressure. Although many states do it, only five agencies thought that relocation was the best management approach. Most agencies (64 percent) used aversive conditioning to lower conflicts with problem bears; however, they don’t seem to favor that option either. Half of all states have laws by which people can be fined for creating situations that promote human/bear conflicts, and wildlife agencies would like to see that alternative, as well as garbage management, used more than aversive conditioning.

Many biologists feel that bear populations are increasing quickly in areas where hunting bears is not allowed. In addition, the range of black bears is expanding, especially east of the Mississippi River. Populations in Wisconsin and Tennessee, for example, have jumped in recent years, and wildlife agencies have increased hunting quotas in those states.

In 2009, Oklahoma and Kentucky held their first bear seasons. Oklahoma set a quota of only 20 bears for that first season, but that establishes a base for a sound bear management program in the future. Kentucky’s first bear season, open only in a restricted area, ran for two days in December 2009. This season was open only to residents who bought a regular hunting license plus a $30 bear permit. Biologists set a conservative quota for the season at 10 bears total, or five female bears, and hunters had to call a toll-free number each day to determine if the quota had been met.


Youngsters everywhere are becoming better archers, students, and citizens, thanks to NASP. Last year, over 4,500 student archers competed in the NASP National Tournament in Louisville, Kentucky.

Even as these states use hunting to manage bears, things in New Jersey are still up in the air, and the legal hassles continue. Although the state Fish and Game Council has a policy that endorses hunting as a management tool, the former Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, along with the former Governor, blocked enactment of this policy. Both are now gone. The Commissioner is part of the Obama Administration, and the Governor lost his reelection bid in November 2009. Whether these political changes will allow common sense to prevail remains to be seen. I’ll keep you posted on future developments.

Archery Makes Bowhunters
The latest academic evaluation of the National Archery in the Schools Program (NASP) shows that 56 percent of teachers say that NASP graduates have a great interest in learning about bowhunting. This year the total number of students through the program will approach 1.5 million, so connecting those kids to bowhunting could give hunter recruitment a real shot in the arm.

Don’t get me wrong here. NASP is not a bowhunting program; it is a target archery program. However, think about how you got into bowhunting. For many of you, it probably started with simply shooting a bow for fun and then progressed to the next logical step — bowhunting. It happens all the time. By focusing on archery, and not on bowhunting, teachers and schools have bought into this program.

Understand that 77 percent of NASP students have never shot a bow before they take the class. Once they take the class, however, 83 percent say they like shooting, 53 percent participate in archery again, 51 percent participate with their dads in later years, 32 percent say their interest in hunting is greater after NASP, and as many as 28 percent buy their own archery equipment.

Teachers do not support this program because it’s going to make bowhunters or archers; they support it because it promotes student confidence (84 percent of teachers say this), increases student motivation (78 percent), improves student attention (76 percent), and improves student behavior (74 percent). They also believe it helps with discipline and attendance. In short, NASP just makes kids better students.

NASP always needs volunteers, so track down your state program and volunteer to help direct an after-school archery club (they are forming all over the country), repair arrows, or teach a class.

Antler Restrictions Change in Mississippi
Mississippi was the first state to develop statewide antler restrictions. The original law restricted hunters to shooting bucks with at least four antler points total. Last fall the restriction was changed to bucks with an inside spread of 12 inches or a main-beam length of 15 inches (in the Delta region), or an inside spread of 10 inches or a beam length of 13 inches (remainder of state).

While the four-point regulation reduced the yearling buck harvest from 50 percent to 23 percent, it allowed harvest of the largest yearling bucks while protecting forkhorns and spikes. The new regulations will require more scrutiny by hunters before shooting, but the regs will protect 100 percent of yearling bucks. As data from the 2009 deer season comes in for Mississ
ippi, I’ll keep you updated on results.

Hunters Express Concern in Wisconsin
No one could have foreseen the problems that Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) would create for the state of Wisconsin. The ramifications have been huge. For example, when CWD first reared its ugly head, Wisconsin created a “hot zone” where eradication was thought to be a possible solution. We now know that we can’t shoot our way out of CWD. We can slow it down by shooting lots of deer from a “hot zone,” and this is a good thing. But we apparently cannot eliminate CWD via shooting.

Hunter numbers dropped after the CWD outbreak, but who knows whether the disease was the cause? Hunter numbers have been dropping everywhere in the past 10-15 years. But the last two years have seen the lowest buck kills in Wisconsin in 25 years, and when the DNR proposed to extend the deer gun season from nine to 16 days in 2010, hunters screamed “foul!”

Even though the post-hunt deer population exceeded the DNR’s post-hunt goal for the past 18 years, hunters are seeing fewer deer, creating a situation similar to that in Pennsylvania, where the Game Commission has attempted to reduce deer numbers to sound ecological levels. Plain and simple, hunters are upset. Opposition to an expanded gun season in Wisconsin became so vocal that in early December the DNR cancelled the presentation of its proposal to the Natural Resources Board.

Even though Wisconsin, one of the great destinations for deer hunters, produces many quality bucks each year, CWD has opened the door to conflicts between hunters and the DNR and has created a difficult situation, both politically and biologically. Only time will tell if the DNR’s strategy will control deer numbers — and CWD. For the most part, hunters have accepted CWD and still want to hunt deer.

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