State Round Up

BEAR HUNTERS who have been saying the DNR is underestimating the
state’s bear population may be right. The DNR is expected to
release this week the preliminary results of a two-year black bear
study that suggests that the state’s bear population could be least
twice as large as currently thought. Don’t go running off looking
for extra permits just yet – this information is sifting out after
just one year of the two-year study. But the researchers have
looked at those early results from every angle and say that the
numbers do look encouraging. If these numbers hold up through the
second year of study, the DNR will work with the Conservation
Congress, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and the Wisconsin Bear
Hunters Association to revamp the state’s black bear kill tag
system, according to DNR bear ecologist Keith Warnke, who has
described this revelation as “good news.”

“It means we have a healthy bear population and we may be able
to expand bear hunting opportunity.” said Warnke.

The two-year DNR-funded study was conducted by UW-Madison
wildlife ecology graduate student Dave MacFarland under the
guidance of Dr. Timothy Van Deelen. Van Deelen had worked for the
DNR for about two years as a deer researcher, but then took a job
at UW-Madison. Van Deelen and his students have been doing some
meaningful wildlife research projects since then, and this bear
study is just one spin-off of Van Deelen’s efforts since he left
the DNR. Van Deelen said these preliminary results would put
Wisconsin’s bear densities in the same range as Minnesota and
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – if they hold up through the second
year of study.

This first year of information came from black bear ribs
collected from bear hunters during the 2006 bear season. MacFarland
and VanDeelen still have to record data from black bear ribs
collected from the 2007 bear season.

As part of the study, about 3,500 baits laced with tetracycline
were set out across the state’s bear range in 2006. Tetracycline is
harmless to bears, but “stains” a bear’s bones. Successful hunters
in 2006 and 2007 were asked to provide a section of a rib bone from
bears they harvested for analysis. From those samples, the bear
population was calculated. The new study adjusted the amount of
bait so that a single bear would likely consume all of it in one
visit, greatly reducing the possibility that one bait might mark
two bears. By comparing the number of baits consumed in a season to
the number of harvested bears showing the tetracycline marker in
their bones, scientists came up with the new estimate.

“We are always working to improve the science we have to manage
wildlife populations,” said Warnke in a press statement. “The
department funded the research to improve our population estimate
and expand the science base we have on this species. The Wisconsin
Bear Hunters Association was a key collaborator on this study and
many members participated in gathering data and contributing
research supplies.

“The earliest possible changes that would impact bear hunting
permit availability would be for the 2009 season. Adjusting
population goals will necessitate changes to administrative rules,
involving public meetings, Natural Resources Board approval and
legislative approval When the final results are in we’ll be able to
use this information to assess bear population goals and adapt our
bear management program,” said Warnke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *