Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

April 5, 2014

Black bear biologist explains new hunt

The Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service has abandoned the bear harvest quota system in use for 10 hunting seasons and has set the next two hunts at four days apiece.

In the past, those who had drawn bear hunting permits were required to call in at the end of each day to determine if the hunt would continue. Once enough bears had been checked in and the harvest range reached, the season would be shut down.

Since the first modern hunt in 2004, the season has lasted six days one time, five days two times, four days five times, two days one time and one day one time.

“It was an no-brainer decision to set the season at four days because in seven out of the 10 years the harvest quota range was reached on day four,” said Harry Spiker who directs bear research. “In a couple of those years we let the season continue into the next  day.”

Spiker said he will not be surprised if changes made to the hunt increase the harvest somewhat.

“We heard in the past from hunters that they took just two days off to hunt because they weren’t sure how long the season would last,” he said. “Also we will now allow the successful applicant to name two subpermitees to hunt instead of one. That will increase the odds of harvesting a bear. And so will the new rule that the hunters no longer have to maintain visual contact with each other.”

Spiker said a common complaint about naming one subpermitees came from a parent who who had two children and had to choose which one could join the hunt.

The wildlife biologist said he anticipates that the number of permits available for the coming hunt in October will be very similar to the 380 issued in 2013.

A common comment Spiker hears is from hunters wanting the bear season to be open to all license buyers.

“We have 4,000 people apply for a bear permit. If we were to let all those people hunt bears in Garrett and Allegany counties we would hurt the population,” he said. “Pennsylvania lets everybody hunt, but the whole state is open in bear season.”

Spiker said Maryland’s 13 percent bear hunter success rate is very high compared to 3 or 5 percent in nearby states.

“One of the reasons for that is our hunt is in October when all the bears are out and moving, feeding in preparation for winter,” he said.

For a hunt to be open to everyone, the season would have to be moved to December and take place after many bears, especially females, have gone into dens.

Maryland allows hunters to harvest any bear. There are no minimum weight qualifications.

In spite of that, fewer than 5 percent of the bears checked in have been cubs. During 10 years of bear hunting, 594 bruins have been harvested in Maryland.

Annual Den Work

The wildlife agency has completed its annual bear den work during which radio-collared female bears and their cubs are checked.

Spiker said crews dealt with eight sows — five in Garrett County, two in Allegany and one in Washington — that gave birth to 22 cubs. The average of 2.75 cubs per sow is down slightly from the long term average of 3.0. Spiker attributes that number to a poor acorn crop this past fall. When it came time to enter dens, sows were not as robust as in previous years.

Two of the sows inspected by WHS were not collared, but were reported to the agency, one by a hunter and one by a home contracting crew that discovered a sow and cubs beneath a porch.

This spring, a 15-year-old sow in Garrett County died after being sedated at a den site.

“That’s only the second time in the history of our bear den work that this happened,” Spiker said. “Our best guess is that it was a reaction to the drugs. Veterinarians were on hand but were unable to revive the bear.”

Spiker said three times sows were dead in dens when the crews arrived, one from heart failure, one from meningitis and one from an unknown cause.

A 20-year-old sow with two cubs on the Green Ridge State Forest is the oldest female bear with offspring the agency has worked.

Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at msawyers@times-news.com.

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