Longer bear hunt season aims for data, additional thinning of the populationStefan Hard / Staff File Photo
A black bear ambles along a homeowner’s lawn in Berlin.
MONTPELIER — With bear season just around the corner, prospects for hunters should improve this year as Vermont begins a new population-management experiment that will increase the length of the season by four days.
The season extension is just one change to bear-hunting protocols this year as state officials seek to curb growth of a population that, according to state Director of Wildlife Mark Scott, “is at the maximum end of desired density.”
The season will now run from Sept. 1 to Nov. 24. Unlike in years past, however, hunters will now need to purchase a special bear tag if they want to hunt the animal during the bulk of the season.
A standard hunting license once sufficed for hunting throughout bear season. But Scott says that practice has made it difficult to tell which hunters are out for bear, and which are taking the animals only because they happen to run across one while in pursuit of other game.
In order to hunt bear legally between Sept. 1 and Nov. 15, hunters will need to purchase a $5 tag, in addition to the standard hunting license. The new requirement, Scott says, will allow the state to compile a database of dedicated bear hunters, a list that should yield important information about who is hunting the animals and where.
“What we didn’t have a good handle on, and what we need in order to better manage bear, is a better idea who the people are that are actively out there pursuing them, and where and how they’re doing it,” he says.
Targeted surveys of those hunters will provide “more data for us to consider when it comes to managing bear regionally in the state,” Scott says. “It’ll be similar to the kind of information we’ve used to refine management of moose and deer.”
Hunters who don’t purchase the bear tag will still be able to take bear legally between Nov. 16 and Nov. 24 — the first nine days of rifle season for deer.
“Basically we’ve taken what was one straight season of bear and changed it into two seasons,” Scott says.
Wildlife officials peg the number of bear in Vermont at about 6,100, more than double the population of 25 years ago. High density in some areas of the state has led to frequent human/bear interaction, often with bad outcomes for the bear.
According to the department’s 2012 Black Bear Report, game wardens “responded to 339 complaints of black bears involved in automobile collisions, causing property damage or potentially threatening public safety.”
Licensed hunters harvested 618 black bears during the 75-day season in 2012.
Scott says the cost of the new tag is designed to make people be more deliberate about bear hunting, without creating a significant financial disincentive to do so.
“We’re hoping $5 is reasonable amount of money,” Scott says. “We thought it wasn’t large enough so it wouldn’t stop people from making the decision, but that people had to think about whether, when they go out this fall, they want to hunt bear.”
Clint Gray, vice president of the Vermont Bearhound Association, says some diehard bear hunters have grumbled about the added cost. But he says most appreciate the special designation for dedicated bear hunters, who are eager to see the state develop more informed herd-management strategies.
“It’ll give bear big-game status, and it’ll give the biologists some information they can use for management issues,” Gray says.
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