Drought may boost bear take

By Steve
Piatt
Editor

Albany — New York’s 2005 bear harvest will almost assuredly be
impacted by changes in hunting seasons, notably in the Catskills,
which will see a longer season by three days.

A widespread drought in the same area could also boost harvest
numbers as bears are forced to range wide for food, DEC officials
predict.

“The Southern Zone is awfully dry, including the Catskills and
Allegany areas where we have bear season,” said DEC Big Game
Section Leader John O’Pezio. “As far as the mast crop, some oaks
are already losing their acorns, from the reports I’ve received. We
even have some trees losing leaves and some insect defoliation in
some areas.”

How that impacts the upcoming bear season remains to be seen,
but traditionally a drought has forced the bruins to range wider
and more often in search of food.

Last season’s harvest of 1,014 bears was the third-highest on
record and well above the 10-year average of 851 bears.

But it was also well below the record 2003 take of 1,864 bears,
which occurred during a poor mast crop and high bear population
statewide.

O’Pezio said the 2005 season will likely bring a harvest of
1,000 or more bruins from the statewide population, which is now
estimated at about 6,000.

“I don’t think we have enough bears out there to sustain a
harvest (equal to 2003) that quickly,” he said. “So I’d be
surprised if we approached that number. But I wouldn’t fall out of
my chair.”

One factor that will almost assuredly lead to a higher harvest
will be the additional three hunting days afforded those in the
Catskill region. Traditionally opening five days into the Southern
Zone deer hunting season, bear season in the Catskills has now been
moved up to Nov. 21 — two days after the Saturday, Nov. 19 deer
opener.

The move was made to boost harvest numbers in an area that has
seen increases in nuisance complaints and bears’ expansion into
additional areas of the Catskills.

The Catskill region bear season runs from Nov. 21-Dec. 11,
followed by a Dec. 12-20 muzzleloading and archery season. The
early archery bear season runs from Oct. 15-Nov. 18.

Wildlife technician Beth Renar says a growing corps of
bowhunters has been targeting bears with some success.

“We get quite a few bowhunters who repeat their success from
season to season,” she said.

In the Allegany region, the archery bear season also runs from
Oct. 15-Nov. 18, with the regular season Nov. 26-Dec. 11 and the
late archery and muzzleloader season from Dec. 12-20.

New York’s 2005 bear season actually kicks off Sept. 17 with the
early Adirondacks season, which runs through Oct. 14. The
muzzleloading bear season follows from Oct. 15-21, and the regular
season from Oct. 22-Dec. 4. The archery season goes from Sept.
27-Oct. 21.

The Adirondacks region traditionally records the highest bear
harvest; last year, 674 bruins were taken. Another 257 were
harvested in the Catskills, and 83 more in the Allegany region.

The season changes will make it difficult in the future to
compare year-to-year harvest figures, says O’Pezio.

Still, the 2005 season will likely result in the harvest of more
than 1,000 bears, if tradition holds.

“There are always some factors we can’t control, like the
weather,” Renar said. “Right now, we have some drought or
near-drought conditions in much of the Southern Zone, and we don’t
know how that might impact the season. If we get some rain, it may
not impact it at all, but August isn’t the best of months to get
rain.”

How long bears stay out before denning is another factor in the
harvest; if the bruins are already denned up they’re not available
to hunters.

“In a good mast crop year or wherever there’s food available,
they’ll stay out longer,” Renar said.

She added that nuisance complaints in the Catskills have
declined, but that may not be indicative of the bear
population.

“We’ve done a lot of public education in the region, alerting
people about garbage and bird feeders and things that attract
bears,” Renar said.

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