Extra bear hunting on table
Bear hunters may get extra time to track down a bruin in southwestern Pennsylvania starting next fall.
When Pennsylvania Game Commissioners meet in January to give preliminary approval to hunting seasons and bag limits for 2014-15, one option expected to be on the table is an expansion of bear season in wildlife management units 2C and 4B.
Biologists are recommending the board allow properly licensed hunters to take bears from Wednesday through Saturday of the first week of deer season in both places. The extra time is meant to address bear populations growing large enough to be problematic.
“We've seen increased populations, increased nuisance issues and increased vehicle mortality,” said Cal DuBrock, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management.
Unit 2C takes in all of Somerset and parts of Westmoreland, Fayette, Indiana, Cambria, Blair and Bedford counties. Unit 4B is closer to the center of the state and includes all or parts of Perry, Juniata, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon, Mifflin and Snyder counties.
Extended bear seasons are not new. The commission first experimented with letting hunters shoot bears in deer season in three counties — Pike, Monroe and Carbon — in 2002. They've been held regularly in spots since, with 11 management units allowing hunting during all or part of deer season this past fall.
They've been successful, said Mark Ternent, the commission's bear biologist.
“We've learned two things about extended seasons,” Ternent said. “First, it increases the overall bear harvest in those units. We see anywhere from a 9 to 13 percent increase in the harvest.
“Second, harvest rates on nuisance bears tend to go up even higher than harvest rates on non-nuisance bears. That's because we're putting pressure on bears that don't see many hunters normally. Those hunters go places they just don't during the bear-only season.”
The goal of the extended season in 2C and 4B would not be to shrink bear populations drastically, Ternent said. Rather, the intention is to stabilize them.
He cautioned that it's not certain that the board will consider the extended-season option. Recommendations from biologists must undergo review on several levels by senior agency staff before getting to the board, he said.
But commission press secretary, Travis Lau said he expects the commission will forward the recommendation and at least give board members the opportunity to consider the idea.
“We are on target for that to occur in the next license year. It would seem at this point that it would be proposed in January and could be finally approved in April,” Lau said.
The months between preliminary approval and final approval are meant to allow for public comment.
It seems as if at least a few commissioners are on board with the idea already.
Commissioners held a working group meeting in Harrisburg this past week. A couple of recommendations from staff, such as going to two weeks of concurrent buck and doe hunting statewide, were shelved without discussion, labeled “nonstarters” by some board members.
The idea of extending bear season ran into no such resistance. In fact, the opposite seemed true in regard to 2C.
Public feedback is behind that.
“Farmers in 2C are complaining more about bears than they are about deer,” said commissioner Tim Layton of Windber.
“I don't think you'll get too much pushback in 2C. I hear a lot of complaints about bears there,” added commissioner Ralph Martone of New Castle.
Larry Cogan of Friedens, president of the Somerset County Farm Bureau, said farmers increasingly are dealing with bear issues. Problems have grown over the last 10 years as bear numbers have increased, he said. Complaints range from bears in crop fields to bears tearing into silage bags, those long tube-like plastic bags, worth hundreds of dollars each, that farmers use to store grain. They attract hungry bears.
“You wind up with farmers out there with duct tape trying to fix what the bears have done,” Cogan said.
Problems are worst on farms adjacent to game lands, as the mix of woods and crop fields especially is enticing to bears, he said. But farmers all over the county have reported issues.
If extended seasons are put in place, and start to lower bear numbers too far, they can be removed, Ternent said. The commission has done that in the northeastern Pennsylvania. For now, an extended season in 2C and 4B may be the way to go, he said.
“There are certainly enough bears out there,” Ternent said.