Legislation allows for take of problem bears

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder has approved legislation that will give Michigan farmers the ability to kill problem bears outside of the regular season, if the animals are damaging crops. 

House Bill 5226, recently signed into law by Snyder, was introduced by Upper Peninsula state Rep. Ed McBroom as a means of dealing with bears that cause crop damage on farms in both the Upper and Lower peninsulas every year, although there is no reliable data on the extent of the damage. 

“It’s trying to make an easy solution for a problem that costs farmers a lot of money every year,” McBroom said. 

The new law will allow landowners to secure a crop damage permit from the Michigan DNR to kill a bear causing damage in the summer months, but the initial legislation made hunting groups uneasy about how it might impact the bear season. 

Previously, DNR officials worked with farmers to utilize nonlethal methods to remedy bear damage complaints, of which there were very few. 

As introduced, HB 5226 did not provide safeguards to ensure there was a justifiable need for a permit, or did it put a cap on the number of damage permits, said Matt Pedigo, Michigan Bear Hunters Association director. 

“It gave the opportunity for people to circumvent the traditional bear season,” Pedigo said. “It was basically forcing the DNR to give out crop damage permits to anyone who made a claim.”

Officials with Michigan United Conservation Clubs, MBHA, and the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation met with McBroom and worked on ways to make changes to the legislation before it was approved by the state House last summer. 

Those changes require farmers or hunters executing a bear crop damage permit to use legal harvest methods and to acquire a bear license for the bear management unit in which the damage is occurring. They also limit available crop damage permits to 5 percent of the allocated bear harvest for each BMU, and give DNR officials four days to respond to a complaint and 10 days to make a determination on issuing a permit. 
In BMUs in which fewer than 20 traditional bear licenses are available, DNR officials “may use” one permit for a bear damage permit, according to the law.

Hunters or farmers who kill a bear using a crop damage permit cannot use bait, or kill cubs or a sow with cubs, and must register the animal with the DNR within 72 hours. Hunters who use crop damage permits cannot shoot another bear during the same calendar year. 

The new law also tasks the DNR with reporting back to the Legislature about the program in three years.

“I think there’s always concern for people to abuse it … but I think (the changes) helped to alleviate a lot of concerns” about the bill as it was introduced, said Matt Evans, MUCC legislative affairs manager. 

Evans also noted that the new law does not add or take bears away from the DNR’s harvest quota. 

The bill is set to go into effect March 30.

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