Last season’s bear kill NY’s third-highest ever

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — New York bear hunters harvested more than 1,000 bruins
last season, which stands as the third-largest take ever.

And that number will likely continue to grow as bears expand
their range in many areas of the state, says DEC Big Game Section
Leader John O’Pezio.

The 2005 harvest will likely jump, too, due to alterations in
bear seasons in the Catskills, where the bear population is growing
rapidly.

“I think it’s going to be difficult to compare (harvest figures)
in light of some of the season changes that were just adopted,”
O’Pezio said. “Particularly in the Catskills, where the bear season
traditionally began five days after the opening of the regular deer
season. This fall, it will begin just two days after the deer
season opens. That’s a fairly significant step.”

That move likely means more pregnant females will be harvested
prior to denning for the winter.

“Back in the 1970s, we were seeing about 40 bears taken by
hunters,” O’Pezio said. “Now, it’s up to a couple hundred each
year. We can afford more of a harvest.”

DEC officials announced late last month that hunters harvested
1,014 black bears during the 2004 seasons, the third-highest total
ever and well above the 10-year average of 851.

But the 2004 harvest is sharply below the 2003 record of 1,864
bruins, which DEC officials are writing off as a blip on the chart.
In 2003, a poor mast crop and a high bear population led to the
record harvest as bears searched far and wide for food, and often
encountered hunters along the way.

The 2004 bear take — similar to the 2002 total of 1,070, the
second-highest ever — is a product of increased populations in
traditional areas as well as the expansion of the bear population
into other areas, particularly the southern Catskills, O’Pezio
said.

“We had a lot of nuisance complaints and a record number of home
entries (by bears) last year,” he said.

That prompted DEC to ratchet up its education efforts in
alerting residents as to how to avoid attracting bears to their
properties. DEC is distributing full-color brochures throughout the
town of Warwick and even went to a direct mail campaign to
residents of Woodstock in an effort to prevent bear-human
encounters.

New York bear hunters saw increased harvests last season in all
three regions — the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Allegany
range.

In the Adirondacks, traditionally the leader in overall harvest
numbers, 674 bears were taken in 2004. That’s above the 10-year
average of 579.

St. Lawrence County ranked as the top Adirondack harvest total
with 88 bears, 52 of which were taken during the early (Sept.
18-Oct. 15) season. Herkimer County had 84 bears taken, and four
other counties (Franklin, 66; Essex, 64; Clinton, 61; and Oneida,
61) also had solid seasons.

In the Catskills, the total harvest of 257 bears was above the
previous 10-year average of 218. Sullivan County led the way with
97 bears — 42 during the archery season. Forty-nine were reported
from Ulster County.

Cattaraugus (25), Steuben (24) and Allegany (22) accounted for
the bulk of the Allegany region’s 83 bears, which was higher than
the 10-year average of 54.

Officials said “very few” large bears were reported last season;
one from Sullivan County topped 500 pounds (field-dressed).

DEC, in response to recommendations from Stakeholder Input
Groups that met to discuss black bear management, opened a number
of new areas to bear hunting last season. In the Catskill region,
Wildlife Management Units 4O and 4P had bear seasons, while WMUs
9J, 9K, 9M, 9N, 9W, 9P and 9S were opened to hunting.

Harvest figures showed 22 bears were taken from the newly-opened
WMUs.

DEC officials also attributed the high harvest to a poor mast
crop, which forced bruins to travel more in search of food. That,
in turn, made them more accessible to hunters.

Bears also may den early during a short food supply year,
leading to higher early-season harvest figures and lower takes
later in the season.

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