Early reports indicate good bear season

Madison – Judging by preliminary harvest reports, Wisconsin’s
2009 black bear season was one to remember, with 3,907 bear
registration stubs counted through Nov. 16. That number will
increase as more stubs are tallied.

The 3,907 preliminary total did not include a tribal bear kill
of 41 animals reported so far.

The success rate was at 53.45 percent through Nov. 16, down
slightly from a 3-year average of 59 percent. The success rate is
also likely to change before the final harvest total is set.

A new method of surveying the state’s bear population indicated
that there are more bears roaming the state than previously
thought. The bear population is estimated at 24,000 to 36,000
animals. That’s up from the previous estimate of about 13,000 to
15,000. In response to the new population estimate, the DNR issued
a record 7,310 kill tags for 2009 – up 57 percent from the previous
year.

Although final harvest figures have not been tallied, Keith
Warnke, the DNR’s big-game ecologist, is pleased with the
season.

“It was a very good season,” he said. “Success levels were good.
We’ve heard of lots of big bears, lots of success. The only
downsides were the acorn crop and there was a lot of corn
standing.”

The new harvest model got its trial run this year. It was based
on of a 2-year study conducted by a UW student, with funding from
the DNR and cooperation from the Wisconsin Bear Hunters
Association. The research involved placing tetracycline in 3,500
bait stations. The chemical is harmless to bears but stains their
bones. Successful hunters were asked to submit a rib bone for
testing during the 2006 and 2007 seasons in an effort to estimate
the statewide bear population.

“Bears are expanding their range around the state,” Warnke said.
“We’ve been getting a lot of anecdotal surveys from hunters. We
suspected for some time that the population was increasing.”

An informal phone survey of registration stations indicated the
kill was at or above last year, with many attendants saying they
saw a lot of bears, both being registered and inhabiting their
areas. Many stations also reported some big bears coming in, most
notably a 727-pound bear killed near Tripoli. Several bears over
500 pounds were registered, as well.

The increased number of permits this year seems to be a welcome
change. It takes several years for a hunter to be drawn for a kill
tag, and the number of people applying for a permit continues to
grow. Most folks interviewed for this story agreed that there are a
lot of bears. In fact, some would like to see even more tags
available next year.

“It’s a very robust population,” Warnke said. However, he wants
to approach the matter with caution before allocating still more
tags. “The science is designed to maintain a sustainable harvest,”
he said. “The best available science is the strongest way we can
maintain our hunting traditions.”

Warnke said population modeling determines how many bears can
safely be harvested, but he said other factors are considered when
allocating permits. One example is hunt quality. Warnke doesn’t
want too many hunters competing for the same bears.

“Reports I’m getting do not seem to indicate hunters felt
crowded,” he said.

Once the numbers are crunched and data is analyzed, the DNR can
begin to determine harvest quotas for next season.

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