Bear harvest numbers in 2009 were the second-highest ever recorded in New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced today. Last fall’s harvest was only exceeded by 2003’s record total.
Statewide, hunters took 1,487 black bears in 2009 – a 15 percent increase from the 1,295 taken in 2008. The 2009 increase is principally due to a strong surge in bear harvest in the Adirondack region, where the 814 bears taken in 2009 was a 40 percent increase over 2008. In 2003, 1,864 bears were harvested statewide.
While overall population size plays the largest role in the annual harvest, take numbers are also strongly influenced by environmental factors that affect bear movements and the timing of bear denning, such as food availability and snowfall. The 2009 early bear season proved to be the most productive time for hunters in the Adirondacks, accounting for more than 50 percent of the bear take. Bears were more active during the early season due to poor production of soft mast (cherries and berries), and their increased activity were a benefit for hunters.
Harvest numbers ran high in New York’s other two bear hunting regions as well: 494 bears were taken in the Southeastern bear area and 179 in the Central-Western bear area. The totals represented the second biggest harvest for each region. These numbers are consistent with bear population growth trends in recent years. Bowhunters were especially important in these areas, accounting for more than one-third of the bear take in the Southeastern area and almost 50 percent in the Central-Western bear hunting area. In general, favorable weather conditions and a relatively good food supply kept bears from denning early and led to plenty of opportunities for hunters.
In recent years, DEC has expanded the number of areas open to bear hunting in several areas. As a result, in 2009, DEC changed the designations of the bear hunting regions historically known as “Allegany” and “Catskills” to “Central-Western” and “Southeastern,” respectively.
Hunters are encouraged to submit tooth samples which enable DEC to determine the age of harvested animals. To encourage participation in the voluntary tooth sampling program, DEC issues a NYS Black Bear Cooperator Patch to all hunters who report their harvest and submit a tooth. More than 750 patches will be distributed for the 2009 hunting season, with eligible hunters receiving their patch in late summer 2010 when all the age data has been processed.
In addition to harvest totals, DEC uses a variety of indices to measure bear populations. Taxidermists and DEC wildlife personnel collect age and sex information from harvested bears, as well as movement data from tagged bears. This information, along with data from incidents of bear-human conflicts, is used to help determine whether bear populations are increasing or decreasing, and if bears are expanding their range. The information 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 both sustainable and compatible with human interests.
2009 bear harvests by county, town, and Wildlife Management Unit, with comparisons to previous years’ bear harvests, are available on the DEC website. Historical bear harvest data is available here.