More bears, and likely more WMUs

Albany – Plenty of bears and more places to hunt them would, in
theory, be reason for optimism heading into this bruin season.

But while the bears continue to expand their range in New York,
prompting DEC to propose allowing hunting in additional Wildlife
Management Units this fall, it could, in fact, be a challenging
season for some black bear pursuers.

That’s because in most areas of the state – and in particular
the Adirondack region – the bears have and continue to have plenty
of available food. As a result, their need to roam in search of a
meal is greatly diminished, leading to fewer sightings.

“There’s been a really good berry crop – wild strawberries,
raspberries, blueberries and blackberries – and they had a lot of
good greens all summer,” said DEC Region 5 wildlife biologist Ed
Reed. “Our bear complaints are the lowest I’ve ever seen, which
really means they have all kinds of natural food out there.

“It certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t any bears out there,
that’s for sure.”

Indeed, the state’s bear numbers are on the verge of
skyrocketing, and the state’s largest big-game animal is populating
areas where they’ve never before been seen. Sightings have even
occurred just outside the cities of Syracuse and Rochester, and
even within Binghamton city limits.

That’s prompted DEC to propose an expansion of the state’s
Catskill and Allegany bear-hunting regions to include additional
Wildlife Management Units.

The proposal – expected to be adopted by DEC following a public
comment period that ended Aug. 9 – would open WMUs 7M, 7R, 7S, 8H,
8J, 8M, 8N, 8P, 8R, 8S, 9G and 9H to black bear hunting for the
archery, regular and muzzleloading seasons. Those units include
parts of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Wyoming, Genesee, Monroe,
Livingston, Wayne, Ontario, Seneca, Yates, Steuben, Schuyler,
Tompkins, Tioga, Cortland, Broome, Chenango, Madison, Onondaga, and
Oneida counties.

Even though the approval won’t come until after the hunting
regulations guide has been printed, DEC officials say they can
impose the new regulations this season since it’s a less
restrictive measure.

“Except for the expanded WMUs, everything is status quo,” said
DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst of the fall bear hunting season
dates. “I suspect that if the expansion is approved, the overall
take in the Catskill and Allegany regions will increase. And that’s
OK. We don’t want the population to grow too much more.”

Hurst said bears have filled in most of the available habitat in
the Catskill region. “There aren’t many more areas where we can
hunt them,” he said.

Statewide, hunters took 1,117 bears last year, up nearly 40
percent from the previous year’s harvest of 796. The Adirondack
region – until recently the perennial harvest leader among the
three regions – led the way in 2007 with 544, followed by the
Catskills (453) and Allegany region (120).

The Allegany range’s harvest was a record high, topping the
previous mark of 113 a year earlier and providing further evidence
that bears in western New York are continuing to expand their
range.

The Adirondacks’ take of 544 bears was back to a normal range
after two sub-par seasons, while the Catskills’ take was above the
2006 harvest of 365 but below the record take of 494 in 2005, a
year in which the Catskills unseated the Adirondacks for the first
time in history as the top bear-producing region.

The Adirondacks is the lone region to have an early bear-hunting
season, this year from Sept. 13-Oct. 10.

“We see quite a bit of harvest in the early season in the
Adirondacks,” Hurst said. “It generally tells us what kind of
overall season it will be in that region.”

Most of the state’s bear kills occur during the deer-hunting
season when whitetail hunters have a chance encounter with a bruin.
But there’s some indication that, with the increased numbers of
bear sightings, some hunters are taking more of an interest in
specifically targeting a bear.

“We get comments from some hunters that they’re seeing a bunch
of bears but haven’t taken one because when they did see a bear it
wasn’t during the season or it wasn’t open for bear hunting in
their area,” Hurst said. “There’s definitely some interest in
having the opportunity to take one, and the expansion into
additional units may provide that opportunity.”

Later in the season, the soft mast (berries, apples) takes a
back seat to acorns and beech nuts. Reed says beech nuts are “very
important in the central Adirondacks. That area doesn’t have oaks
like the Champlain Valley and areas further south. Black cherry,
too, is something the bears will camp out on.”

The season dates by region are:

€ Adirondack – Early, Sept. 13-Oct. 10; Regular, Oct. 18-Dec. 7;
Muzzleloading, Oct. 11-17; Bowhunting, Sept. 27-Oct. 17.

€ Allegany – Regular, Nov. 22-Dec. 7; Muzzleloading, Dec. 8-16;
Bowhunting, Oct. 18-Nov. 14 and Dec. 8-16.

€ Catskill – Regular, Nov. 15-Dec. 7; Muzzleloading, Dec. 8-16;
Bowhunting, Oct. 18-Nov. 14 and Dec. 8-16.

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