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Commissioners ponder changes to bear, pheasant seasons

Allegheny County gave up its first black bear to a hunter in at least 62 years this past fall. That's prompting changes.

Washington County did not give up any wild pheasants to hunters this past fall, or at least very few. That's prompting changes, too.

Pennsylvania Game Commissioners are meeting in Harrisburg today through Tuesday. Before they're done, they'll give preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for the 2012-13 hunting and trapping seasons. Final approval will come in April.

At this meeting, when it comes to bears, commissioners have two proposals on their agenda.

It's been recommended that hunters be allowed to take black bears during all deer seasons, from September through mid-December, in wildlife management units 1A, 2B, 5B, 5C and 5D. Unit 2B takes in most of Allegheny County, along with parts of Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland. Unit 1A includes all of Mercer and Lawrence counties and parts of Beaver, Butler, Crawford and Venango.

Units 5B, 5C and 5D are all in southeastern Pennsylvania.

"Pennsylvania's black bear population is larger and more widely distributed than ever and bear-human incidents are becoming commonplace, especially in more developed areas," reads the agency agenda. "In these five WMUs, with relatively high-human-population densities, there currently are low bear densities, the commission wants to continue to have a minimum number of bears, and the commission wants hunters to have an opportunity to play an important role in bear-population management in these areas."

Commissioners will also be asked to consider a muzzleloader season for bears in those same five units. It would run from Oct. 13-20.

The proposed change on the pheasant front is a sadder tale.

Wild, naturally-reproducing populations of ringnecks had disappeared from most of the state by the early part of this century. In an attempt to reverse that, pheasant hunters met and -- over objections of some within the commission -- got the OK to import wild birds from the Midwest and release them into the Pike Run watershed in Washington County.

That succeeded in spawning a wild pheasant restoration program that has since spread across the state.

Where it's failed is in producing wild pheasants in Washington County. Despite a decade of habitat work and no hunting, "pheasant densities are at one hen per square mile, far short of the 10 hens per square mile objective," the agenda reads.

As a result, commissioners will be asked to open the area to either-sex pheasant hunting and reinstate the stocking of game farm pheasants beginning this fall.

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