Outlook for bear hunt considered very good

By Bill
Parker
Editor

Roscommon, Mich. — Michigan hunters have killed more than 2,000
black bears each of the past five years, and there are no
indications that trend will end this fall. The season gets under
way on Sept. 10 and ends Oct. 26. Hunters who were successful in
the 2006 bear license lottery are allowed to kill one bear.

Biologists estimate Michigan’s bear population remains between
17,000 and 19,000 animals, with about 90 percent roaming the Upper
Peninsula and 10 percent in the northern Lower.

Last year, 8,920 hunters combined to kill an estimated 2,218
bears in Michigan. That total was down slightly from the record
kill of 2,465 in 2003, but is still the fourth-highest harvest
since the state went to a zones-and-quota system of issuing permits
in the mid-1980s.

Biologists anticipate hunters this year will again kill more
than 2,000 black bears.

“I think we’re going to have a pretty good bear season,” in the
Red Oak Unit, said DNR wildlife biologist Mark Boersen, of
Roscommon. “Early nuisance reports seem to be up (in the northern
Lower) and if that’s any indication of bear numbers, we should have
a pretty good season.”

Boersen said the soft mast crop in the northern Lower is in
pretty good shape this year, which could have a detrimental impact,
especially on bait hunters. When natural food sources are abundant,
bears don’t visit bait piles as regularly as when natural food is
scarce.

“They have been hitting the berries pretty hard and they all
look in excellent condition,” Boersen said. “There’s no shortage of
food. (The soft mast crop) is probably down a little from last
year, but last year was a phenomenal year for berries.”

Last year, hunters killed about 300 bears in the northern
Lower.

“We’d like to take a few more bears than last year,” Boersen
said. “The harvest last year was down from the year before, which
was down from the year before that.”

To accomplish that goal, the DNR issued 1,910 permits this year
to hunters in the northern Lower.

Competition with natural food won’t be as big an issue in the
eastern Upper Peninsula (Newberry BMU) this fall.

“Our mast crops are down. We had a really dry summer, and the
soft mast is spotty at best,” said Terry Minzey, a DNR wildlife
biologist stationed at the Shingleton field office in Alger County.
“Blueberries in some areas are almost nonexistent. Acorns are very
low and beechnuts don’t look very prevalent. Bears will be out
looking for food, which makes them more vulnerable to bait and
hound hunters, both.”

Minzey said nuisance bear reports have been about average this
year, but added that he doesn’t get as many such reports as
biologists get in the Lower because there are fewer people and more
wild land in the eastern U.P.

Last year, hunters killed 404 bears in the Newberry Unit, which
was down from 489 in 2004.

“We’d like to see hunters kill a few more than they did last
year,” Minzey said. “We’d like to be up around 450 this year, so we
maintained our license quotas. What happened last year was that
about the third week of September we got some heavy rain that
created a flood of blueberries and other soft mast. That really
hurt the bait hunters.”

About two-thirds of the state’s total bear harvest comes from
hunters in the western U.P., which includes the Bergland, Baraga
Amasa, Gwinn, and Carney BMUs.

“Hunters can expect a season similar to last year (when they
killed an estimated 1,501),” said DNR biologist Doug Wagner of
Crystal Falls in Iron County. “Our bear numbers in the western U.P.
are excellent, but probably down a little bit from 2001 and 2002.
That’s because we have intentionally reduced the bear numbers here
a little.”

Wagner said the soft mast crop in the western U.P. has been hit
hard by a dry summer.

Last year’s biggest harvest was recorded in the Baraga Unit
where 1,776 hunters killed 539 bears for a success rate of 30
percent. Next was the Newberry BMU, where 1,864 hunters killed 404
bears (22 percent success), followed by the Bergland unit, where
1,165 hunters tagged 314 bears for a 27-percent success rate.

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