Bear management plan up next for DEC

Albany — DEC’s deer management plan has occupied much of the time of the department’s wildlife biologists over the past couple years.

But while they were working on that major document, they were at the same time thinking about another wildlife species – the black bear.

And now that the deer management plan is nearly etched in stone, DEC is moving forward with the development of a similar document for managing the state’s black bear population, which continues to expand across the state.

“We’re in the process of developing it right now,” DEC wildlife biologist Jeremy Hurst told the Conservation Fund Advisory Board last month, at the same time asking for input from that group. “We’re looking for feedback from hunters and other stakeholders, and have already reached out informally to several groups.”

Ultimately, Hurst says the state wants to grow the fraternity of bear hunters in New York.

“We want to engender a culture of bear hunting in this state,” he said. “It will really require a lot of creative thought, and there may be some options in terms of license types, etc., that could lend to that.”

Most of the black bears harvested in New York – 1,258 last season – are killed by deer hunters who encounter a bruin while pursuing whitetails. Still, hunters remain the state’s chief tool in managing the bear population, which continues to grow.

How DEC develops a legion of bear hunters remains to be seen. But Conservation Fund Advisory Board member Dale Dunkelberger notes that in most states where bear hunting is hugely popular, baiting is allowed and there is also a spring bear hunt.

There’s no indication New York is looking at taking either of those steps at this point.

“The plan will cover everything we do with bears,” Hurst said. “It will be fairly broadly focused and will identify key issues for sportsmen, environmental groups and the public in general. Like the deer plan, there will be several primary goals within the plan, but only one that’s specific to hunting. It will cover hunting, education, how we deal with bear conflicts, and bear biology.”

Unlike the state’s deer management plan, no public meetings are planned to gather input from sportsmen and other interested parties. Instead, DEC officials have reached out to hunting organizations and other groups for their input.

The goal is to release the draft plan for public comment by the end of the year, with final adoption next spring or early summer.

“Bear hunting has always played second fiddle to deer and most of our bears that get harvested are incidental to deer,” Hurst said. “There’s a very small contingent of hunters in New York who really go out there specifically targeting bears.

“Fifteen years from now, will we have a group of hunters devoted to bear hunting? A group that can give us specific feedback as to how to best suit their needs to help us achieve the harvest we desire? Right now we don’t have that.”

Still, bear hunting is growing in popularity, albeit slowly, as bruins expand their range across the state and are more visible to hunters than ever before in some areas. DEC has expanded bear hunting opportunities in wildlife management units east of the Hudson River, and last year’s total harvest of 1,258 bruins was the fourth highest on record.

DEC’s deer management plan even includes a move that could impact bear hunting opportunities in the state. The planned Oct. 1 opening date for the Southern Zone archery deer season will also allow bowhunters to take a bear if they’re hunting with the state’s southeastern and west-central bear hunting zones.

In addition, the state also eliminated the one-week lag between the opening of the state’s Southern Zone deer season and the bear season opener. That made bruins legal game on the single biggest day of the hunting year – the opener of the Southern Zone firearms deer season.

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