Today, almost three times as many hunters are harvesting bears – with considerably less travel required to reach them – than 30 years ago. In 2004, hunters took 2,972 bears from 53 counties. Then, in 2011, a record harvest of 4,350 bears occurred, which remains today the largest kill on record. In 2014, 3,366 bears were harvested in 56 counties. The seven top harvests all have occurred since 2005.
This increase in bear numbers and range, however, has also brought an increase in conflicts with bears. Property damage, the likelihood of serious human injury, personnel resources within the Game Commission who respond to conflicts, and public tolerance for further growth of the bear population all have been impacted by the increase in bears.
Nuisance bear conflicts have increased more dramatically in the northeast than anywhere else in the state. In the late 1990s, staff members in the 13 counties that compose the agency’s Northeast Region were responding to about 600 bear complaints annually. In 2000, bear complaints in the region climbed to 813; the following year they exceeded 1,000; and in 2002 they numbered more than 1,100.
Several initiatives have been implemented to help address this trend. For example: in 2003 a regulation was passed that makes it illegal to feed bears; a statewide database for documenting human-bear conflicts is now in place; and emphasis has been put on educational efforts to show people how to coexist with bears. Finally, to lower bear numbers, beginning in 2002, bear hunting season in select areas of the state has been lengthened to include the first week of firearms deer season.
In 2002, this extended season occurred in Pike, Monroe and Carbon counties. Since then, the area included in the extended season has steadily expanded and now includes 13 wildlife management units.
Depending on the year, the bear harvest has increased 20 to 80 percent in areas open to extended hunting. In 2002, 443 bears were taken from the Pike-Monroe-Carbon county area. The same area typically saw a harvest of 265 bears per year, when the season lasted only three days. In 2004, approximately 1,000 bears were harvested in the 6,600 square miles open to extended hunting – an area where usually 547 bears were harvested per year before 2002. Today, harvest during the extended season accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the total harvest in those areas.
Although harvest has greatly increased, it has remained within acceptable limits. Agency personnel capture and eartag 800 or more bears annually, of which 20 percent aer usually harvested in the general season. The percentage being removed in areas with additional hunting opportunity has ranged from 23 to 25 percent, which is a rate that is believed to be safe in some bear populations.
However, the number of hunters taking advantage of this extended season is increasing, so we will continue to closely monitor the bear population and annual harvests. A record number of bear licenses were sold in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The extended season is intended to reduce bears where conflicts have significantly increased. Yet human-bear conflicts may not decrease immediately because nuisance bear activity is also influenced by natural food conditions, dispersal of young, human population trends, and suburban expansion. It may be several years before we can interpret a relationship between increased harvest and nuisance activity.
Moreover, some nuisance bears live in areas that receive little hunting pressure, which is one reason why the extended season was placed within the deer season. Deer hunters are more likely to look for game in areas that traditional bear hunters overlook, such as small woodlots or areas adjacent to homes. Thus, allowing deer hunters (who purchase a bear license) to take a bear may help remove some problem animals.
Harvest in area open to extended hunting
Year Approximate size of area open to extended hunting Extended Season General Season Total % of harvestoccurring in Extended Season2002 1,571 sq mi 173 270 443 39%2003 2,500 sq mi 149 264 413 36%2004 6,600 sq mi 547 466 1,013 54%2005 9,964 sq mi 795 807 1,602 50%2006 6,393 sq mi 476 393 869 55%2007 6,393 sq mi 293 283 576 51%2008 10,485 sq mi 439 661 1,110 40%2009 13,407 sq mi 345 537 882 39%2010 no extended season 2011 19,210 sq mi 878 1,159 2,037 43%2012 21,405 sq mi 672 916 1,588 42%2013 21,526 sq mi 780 892 1,672 47%2014 26,217 sq mi 739 1,183 1,922 38%