Bear management plan is approved

Midland, Mich. – Michigan black bear managers have a clearer
idea where they’re going – and to a large degree, they’ve been
headed in that direction already.

At the June meeting of the Natural Resources Commission, which
oversees the Department of Natural Resources, DNR Director Rebecca
Humphries signed a new Bear Management Plan, updating one drafted
in the mid-1980s.

That was a quarter-century ago, and yet DNR furbearer specialist
Adam Bump said in a phone interview with Michigan Outdoor News, “A
lot of the (new) plan reinforces current bear management
programs.”

He said that after collecting and comparing internal reviews and
recommendations from a Bear Consultation Team, “We said, ‘Hey,
we’re not doing so badly overall; let’s keep sticking with what
we’re doing.’”

Those efforts aim at four areas: maintaining a sustainable
Michigan black bear population; providing bear-related benefits,
such as hunting; minimizing bear-related conflicts; and conducting
science-based management through socially acceptable methods.

Also important, the plan spells out, is teaching people how to
get along with bears.

The DNR conducted five public meetings last year to collect
public opinions, and five more early this year to present the plan
draft and collect reactions to it. The document signed this month
reflects changes resulting from that input, Bump said.

The plan is seen as largely strategic, not operational. That’s
bureaucratic language meaning it describes goals, not the specific
steps to be taken to achieve them.

In some areas, though, such as conflict avoidance and
resolution, it willingly wandered into the operational. Even before
the final document was approved, its development had brought an
earlier opening to the dog field training season, and an Upper
Peninsula “quiet period” prior to the start of the hunting
season.

Those who wrote the 1980s plan might have been surprised at a
major feature of the new one: Consideration of the movement of
bears into southern Lower Michigan. There, managers know, people
will determine how many bears are tolerable. Hunting will be used
to keep bears at that level.

Still, the vast majority of Michigan’s 19,000 bears are believed
to live in 35,000 square miles of suitable habitat in the Upper
Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula – more than 85 percent of
them in the U.P. Their numbers are believed to be stable or
increasing in both peninsulas.

Bears have few natural predators, making hunting, believed to
account for 60 percent of bear mortality, a key management tool.
It’s also an important and popular sport: More than 55,000 people
apply for 12,000 bear hunting licenses each year.

Other focuses of the plan include habitat acquisition and
maintenance, including linkages between blocks of habitat, and
minimizing negative human-bear interactions.

Information and education, said Bump, “is one of the components
where you’ll see the most immediate activity within the
department.

“There are messages we can get out that will increase people’s
tolerance for bears in southern Michigan. There are agencies we
need to work with – outside agencies and within the DNR – about
where the resources are when there’s a problem, and how to resolve
them.”

The plan calls for promoting accurate representations of bear
risks to humans; providing timely and professional responses to
bear problems; and working with the public – beekeepers, farmers,
and others – to reduce people-bear conflicts.

The DNR has a protocol established for dealing with nuisance
bears, Bump said. And, “The faster we can resolve issues, the more
likely people are to accept bears.”

Bump said that all of the Bear Consultation Team’s
recommendations are reflected in the management plan.

The BCT, which reached consensus on all recommendations in the
report, included representatives, 18 in all, of groups including
The Grand Traverse Band of Odawa and Chippewa Indians, the DNR’s
Law Enforcement and Wildlife Divisions, the Great Lakes Indian Fish
and Wildlife Commission, the Michigan Bear Hunters Association,
Michigan Beekeepers Association, Michigan Bow Hunters Association,
Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, Michigan
Longbow Association, Michigan Sheriff’s Association, Michigan State
University Extension, Michigan United Coonhunters Association,
Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Turtle Lake Club, Upper
Peninsula Bear Houndsmen Association, U.S. Forest Service, and The
Wildlife Society.

In general, the group had few qualms with existing bear
management.

It largely backed current Bear Management Unit and license
issuing practices, and supported an effort to balance bear
expansion into southern Lower Michigan with societal needs and
desires.

The team supported regulated baiting, noting that more than 90
percent of Michigan bear hunters, whether they stand hunt or follow
dogs, count on bait to attract bears within range or to create
scent trail.

It also went on record strongly backing DNR efforts to recruit
and retain hunters, including and especially bear hunters. Guides,
it said, should be licensed.

The group did ask that the requirement to have a no-kill bear
hunting license (participation permit) to accompany licensed
hunters be changed so that only those who own or possess dogs on a
hunt need them. That would require legislative action, which the
management plan requests.

Bump said management plans have a reputation for being drafted
and taking a spot on a shelf to collect dust. Not this time, he
said.

“We’ll be looking at action plan items and prioritizing them
this summer, and looking at implementing as many as we can right
away. I don’t want to spend all this time and public input on
something we don’t utilize.”

“The Department didn’t have a clear direction,” Bump said. “Now,
we do.”

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