Grand Rapids, Minn. — Bear hunters didn’t have a bad season, but they did shoot the fewest number of animals in any season since the late 1980s.
The preliminary final harvest: 1,856 bears. The only times the kill has been that low were in and before 1988. But the low harvest was by design.
“We expected the harvest would be down, and we wanted that,” said Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist. “We were trying to reduce the overall bear harvest, and primarily we control that through the number of licenses. So overall, I think the outcome of this season is consistent with what we expected to happen so we would have a lower impact on the overall bear population.”
Hunters killed 2,604 bears last year, and 2,131 in 2011.
The DNR for several years has been working to increase the bear population in the state. The number of permits available has been on a steady decline, and the number this year – 3,750, which was a nearly 38-percent decrease from last year – was the fewest available in nearly 30 years.
As a result, the success rate for hunters in quota areas was higher than 30 percent, which, compared with historical success rates, is relatively high.
“As you cut back on permits, you actually do reduce competition among hunters, so each person tends to have a higher chance of success,” said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear biologist.
But increasing hunter success rates was just one part of the equation when officials made the decision to reduce the number of permits available for the season, which ran Sept. 1 through Oct. 13.
They also wanted the number of females killed to be below 800.
“That was the main goal, to try to reduce the harvest of female bears,” Stark said. “They’re the ones reproducing and helping build the population back up.”
This year, more than 62 percent of the dead bears were males. Fewer than 38 percent were females.
Several years ago, officials believed the bear population was on its way up. Then there was poor natural food in the woods, which means bears are more apt to visit hunters’ bait stations. As a result, the harvest was higher than officials wanted, “so we got really conservative,” Garshelis said.
Stark said it’s too early to say whether the number of permits available, which has declined every year since 2001, will be lower again next year.
“We’ve been chasing the bear population a little bit, trying to reduce license numbers and see an upward trend in the population,” he said.