Wildlife officials seek bear permit reduction

Marquette, Mich. — Despite evidence from a new survey method that the Upper Peninsula’s black bear population is not in decline, state wildlife officials say they will move forward with a proposal to reduce kill tags in an effort to allow the population to grow.

Hunting is used as a bear-management tool through a zone and quota system of license and harvest allocation. DNR biologists use several factors in recommending license quotas, including mark and recapture techniques (tetracycline), a new statistical catch-at-age (SCAA) analysis, hunter success rates, harvest effort, recreational opportunities, and social concerns about bear-related incidents. 

License quotas are designed to spread the harvest evenly between three hunt periods in Upper Peninsula bear management units. 

The fact that the new SCAA technique shows no decline in the state’s bear population has raised concern about reduced opportunity from some hunters who voiced those concerns to the state Natural Resources Commission at its March meeting in Roscommon.

Biologists believe the habitat in the U.P. can sustain a larger bear population. DNR Wildlife Division officials say they will move forward with a proposal to reduce kill tags in an effort to reduce the overall take of bears in the U.P. and subsequently increase the bear population.

“The department is going to hold steady on our recommendation,” Terry Minzey, DNR U.P. regional wildlife supervisor, told Michigan Outdoor News. “Our new population model (SCAA) is complex and suggests that the population has remained steady. Our tetracycline study and reports from the field suggest the population has declined.

“What we hear from sportsmen and sportsmen groups is that they would like to see more bears on the landscape,” he said. “Regardless of if we use the tetracycline data or the SCAA data, the way to increase the population is to reduce the harvest, and we do that by reducing harvest tags.”

In a memo to the state Natural Resources Commission, DNR officials called for a harvest goal in the U.P. for the 2015 season of 1,081 bears, 70 less than in 2014. To accomplish this goal, they’re recommending 5,880 kill tags be available to state-licensed hunters this fall in the U.P. That’s a reduction of 794 kill tags from 2014.

Biologists recommend issuing 460 tags for the Amasa BMU (down 45 from last year), 1,355 for the Baraga BMU (down 265 from 2014), 975 for the Bergland BMU (down 290 from 2014), 735 in the Carney BMU (down 80 from 2014), 1,165 for the Gwinn BMU (down 85 from 2014), and 1,190 for the Newberry BMU (down 29 from 2014).

The harvest recommendation for Drummond Island is one bear.

After listening to hunter concerns about the tag reduction and los of opportunity, Natural Resources Commission chairman John Matonich said there may be slight changes to the recommendation before action is taken at the April 9 commission meeting.

“I think there will be some movement from the (NRC’s) Wildlife Committee to pare back some of those reductions in the U.P.,” Matonich told MON. “I don’t think they will be substantial enough to move the recommendation back to information only at the April meeting.”

The DNR also has recommended a reduction in kill tags and a change in the opening day in the northern Lower Peninsula. Neither of those recommendations has met with the same resistance from some hunters as the U.P. proposal.

“The habitat quality and capacity of the NLP can support additional growth of the bear population,” the DNR wrote in the memo to the commission. 

Wildlife biologists are recommending a total bear kill of 248 in the northern Lower. Since the success rate of hunters there has risen in recent years, the DNR is recommending 820 kill tags be available, a reduction of 35 tags from 2014.

In recent years there has been some conflict between bear hunters, particularly hound hunters, and deer hunters participating in the Liberty Hunt. The Liberty Hunt is a two-day deer hunt for youths and hunters with disabilities.

Annually it opens on the Saturday following Sept. 15.

Bear season in the NLP opens on the Friday before the Liberty Hunt for bait hunters and the following day for houndsmen. To reduce conflicts, the DNR is recommending that the bear season open two days later, on Sunday for baiters and Monday for houndsmen, to minimize these conflicts.

The season would not be shortened and would end two days later.

The NRC was expected to act on the bear-hunting proposal at its April 9 meeting in Lansing.

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