Story Edited by Rob Potter
ALBANY April 11, 2006 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Denise M. Sheehan recently announced harvest results of the 2005 black bear hunting seasons.
Hunters harvested a total of 1,066 black bears statewide during the 2005 bear hunting seasons, which was up slightly from the 2004 harvest of 1,014 bears. Statewide totals include 184 bears harvested during the Northern Zones early season, 227 bears during archery seasons, 56 bears during muzzleloader seasons, and 599 bears during regular bear seasons
In the past few years, we have seen healthy black bear populations in all areas of the state, making New York one of the premier locations for black bear hunting in the Northeast, Sheehan said. New York has excellent bear habitat and vast, accessible public lands that offer exciting opportunities for hunting and viewing wild bears in their natural settings. Bear populations have been increasing in number and expanding in range throughout much of southern New York, a fact evidenced in this years bear harvest.
New Yorks black bear populations occupy three distinct geographic areas: the Adirondack, Catskill and Allegany ranges. This past fall, for the first time in the history of bear hunting in New York, bear take in the Catskills (493) topped the bear take in the Adirondack range (454). This was a record take for the Catskills and it was almost double the 2004 take of 257 bears.
The Allegany range also set a record take in 2005 with 119 bears harvested, an increase of more than 40 percent from the 2004 take of 83 bears.
Here in Sullivan County, hunters took 43 bears during the archery season, two in the muzzleloader season and 88 during the regular season for a total of 133 bears. A total of 99 bears were taken in neighboring Delaware County in 2005. The other two counties which border Sullivan County, Orange and Ulster, had 56 and 111 bears shot, respectively, during the 2005 season.
Bear take in the Adirondacks is down almost 25 percent from the 10-year average, reflecting conditions afield and a reduced bear population following the record take of 1,370 bears in 2003. However, biologists are confident that the Adirondack bear population is healthy and note that environmental factors such as abundant food supply and early snowfall likely contributed to a reduced bear take this past fall.
During years of abundant food, bears tend to move less and when snow comes early, many bears den early. Both situations make bears less vulnerable to hunting and typically result in a reduced bear take, as was the case in 2005. Bear hunting in both the Catskill and Allegany ranges was impacted by implementation of several regulation changes in 2005 that included adjustment of the regular bear season dates and expansion of the areas open to bear hunting. Although the bear season dates were adjusted to remain aligned with regular deer season dates in the Southern Zone, these changes do not appear to have greatly affected bear take. However, bear take was aided by expansion of the areas open to bear hunting.
In response to recommendations from Stakeholder Input Groups (SIG) that met in 2003 and 2004 to discuss black bear management, the DEC expanded the bear hunting areas in both the Catskill and Allegany ranges. In the Catskill region, Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 4O and 4P were opened for hunting, while in the Allegany region, WMUs 9J, 9K, 9M, 9N, 9W, 9P and 9S were opened for hunting. These additional areas were open during the regular bear season in 2004, but were open during all bear seasons in 2005. The additional areas contributed 54 bears to the legal harvest in the Catskills and 10 bears in the Allegany range.
In addition to harvest totals, the DEC uses a variety of indices to measure bear populations. Taxidermists and DEC wildlife personnel collect age and sex information from harvested bears and movement data from tagged bears. This information, along with bear and human conflict data collected throughout the year, is used to help determine whether bear populations are increasing or decreasing, and if bears are expanding their range. This data helps DEC biologists manage bear populations and establish future hunting regulations to assure the management of black bears in New York State is at a level that is compatible with human interests.
The DEC will continue holding black bear SIG meetings in selected areas across the state to help provide the department with guidance for future bear management. All SIG meetings conducted to date have identified education as a high priority management action for achieving objectives, including maintaining safety and reducing bear-related problems.
Bear and human conflicts are on the rise in New York State as more people are recreating and living in bear country.
To assist in creating a better understanding of how people and wildlife can peacefully co-exist, the DEC has been working with Cornell University to evaluate the effectiveness of public education efforts on reducing bear-related problems. SIG meetings are currently being planned in portions of the Hudson Valley.