Monday, April 14, 2014

DEC Proposes Expanding Black Bear Hunting

Black Bear Photo by Gary LemmoThe NYS Department of Environmental Conservation plans to expand bear hunting across New York to prevent conflicts with humans as the animal’s population spreads to new areas.

At one time, the state’s bears were largely confined to the Adirondacks, Catskills, and Allegheny Plateau. During the past two decades, however, they have spread to every county outside New York City and Long Island.

As a result, the number of bear complaints has risen dramatically in recent years. In most cases, bears in search of food—such as crops, bird seed, and garbage—cause property damage. Occasionally, they might break into a residence, attack pets, or act aggressively toward people.

“The draft management plan calls for maintaining the bear population in the Adirondack region at its current level,” DEC Wildlife Biologist Jeremy Hurst said. “However, currently bears are inhabiting and causing damage in the Tug Hill and St. Lawrence Valley in areas that are currently closed to bear hunting. DEC is proposing to open these areas to bear hunting to prevent bear population growth and maintain a low-density population.”

Also, DEC says the controversial use of traps, dogs, and bait, all currently outlawed, should be reconsidered to spur interest in bear hunting. Fewer than 10 percent of New York big-game hunters actively seek bears. Most simply stumble across them while deer hunting.

The proposals are found in the draft “Black Bear Management Plan for New York State 2014-2024,” the first-ever statewide plan for black bears. After reviewing public comments submitted in January and February, DEC could revise the plan.

In the Adirondacks, the department is proposing only to move up the start of the bowhunting season a few weeks to coincide with the start of early bear season.

DEC estimates that the Adirondack Park has three thousand to four thousand bears—about half of the statewide population. Each year, on average, hunters take about 550 of the Park’s bears. A record 1,370 bear were taken in 2003. In that year, natural food was scarce, so bears left the deep woods in search of food in the lowlands and agricultural areas.

Larry Master, a wildlife scientist who lives in Lake Placid, said he’d like to see less bear hunting in the Adirondacks to give the regional population a chance to grow. Citing a 2001 study by the American Society of Mammologists, Master said some northern states have one bear per four square kilometers, a ratio that would allow for at least six thousand bears in the Adirondacks.

“I would like to see the bear population in the Adirondacks be allowed to grow somewhat to allow more folks the opportunity to see bears in the wild,” said Master, retired chief zoologist for the Nature Conservancy and NatureServe. “I would propose to do this by eliminating the early bear hunting season and not moving, as proposed, the bowhunting season to an earlier date.”

“I think we are a long ways from seeing such conflicts grow to anywhere near intolerable levels,” said Master, who is on the Adirondack Explorer board. “I have three to four bears resident on our 135-acre preserve during blueberry season in late July and early August, and I have no conflicts. It’s a treat to see them, and they run at the sight of people.”

But DEC warns that increasing the bear population could lead to more conflicts. “Bear populations generally exceed human tolerance levels before they exceed habitat carrying capacity,” Hurst said. “Allowing the population to grow in the Adirondacks will create greater potential for human-bear conflicts, particularly during years when natural foods are scarce.”

The Adirondack Council is concerned about DEC’s possibly allowing hounds, bait, and traps to hunt bears. “We are not prepared to support the DEC moving forward with any of these methods,” spokesman John Sheehan said.

At present, Maine is the only state that allows bear trapping. It must be done with cable-type foot snares—not old-fashioned steel traps—that must be checked daily.

In 1990, the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sued DEC over the use of dogs to hunt bears, resulting in a ban on the practice. Two years later, the legislature passed a bill that would have repealed the decision, but Governor Mario Cuomo vetoed it.

Chuck Parker, president of the New York State Conservation Council, said baiting and the use of dogs are tools in managing bear populations. “The hunter will appreciate the increased opportunity to hunt bear, and we recognize our role in sound bear management,” he said. “I support hunting bear over bait and with dogs as sound and effective methods. Giving the sportsmen an increased chance of success will increase the participation in bear hunting.”

Both the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club say that public education is crucial to minimizing bear-human conflicts. They say it’s easier to change the habits of people than alter a bear’s behavior.

“In many cases if a bear has to be destroyed, including cubs, it’s usually the fault of humans that have been careless about leaving food out,” said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Simple steps such as eliminating bird feeders or using bear-resistant canisters when camping can prevent problems. In 2005, DEC began requiring overnight backpackers in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness to store food in bear-resistant containers.

“We’re OK with removal of bears and controlling them around urban areas,” Sheehan said. “In rural and semi-rural places like the Adirondacks, we prefer that public education would take precedence over removal. Education has to be at the forefront of the plan.”

The installation of concrete food shelters at state campgrounds and the closure of landfills and transfer stations have helped eliminate conflicts as well.

“When my kids were one, two, and three, we used to go to Long Lake dump, and there would be ten bears out there,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. “There would be fifty people watching. It was quite a scene.”

Bauer said Protect has no evidence to suggest that reducing bear numbers outside the Park would lower their population within it. “We don’t find anything that raises a red flag,” he said.

Woodworth said he believes the Bear Management Plan is a “sensible approach” based on a wealth of scientific data.

Dan Plumley, a partner in Adirondack Wild, said he’d like the management plan revised to include more information about the bear’s niche in the Park. Although bears are omnivores, they sometimes act as predators. “What is the bear’s role as a top predator?” Plumley asked. “We would like to see the report expanded to include more information about the full role of black bears in the forest ecology.”

Photo by Gary Lemmo.

This story originally appeared in the Adirondack Explorer, a nonprofit newsmagazine devoted to the protection and enjoyment of the Adirondack Park.  Get a full print or digital subscription here.

Related Stories

Kid next to water

Paul Post

Paul Post is a freelance writer and an award-winning newspaper reporter for The Saratogian in Saratoga Springs. He writes regularly about Adirondack issues.

A Glens Falls resident, he is well on his way to becoming an Adirondack Forty-Sixer and already is a member of Catskill 3500 Club. He is the author of three books—two sports biographies and one on Saratoga County military history.




28 Responses

  1. Marco says:

    Bears are not too dangerous in the ADK’s…yet. But I would say they are a problem waiting to happen. I used to head out in the 70’s to 90’s and see maybe one bear every 2 years. This was about 35-40 days of camping in the ADK’s The last ten years I expect to see one every trip of ~14 days. Anecdotal, not scientific, but I would say there are more bear around than there used to be 30 years ago.

    Bear canisters are usefull at preventing bear “investigations” in the back country. But the weight of the canisters, the awkward shape (to prevent bears from carrying them off) and the expense of purchasing them ($70-250) means they will probably not be used.

    Many people simply do not know how, nor are willing, to do a good bear hang. 12-15′ up, 4-5′ away from a climbable tree or structure, and, hanging down at least 3′ from any limb. Rock sacks for “throws” and tying off to a second tree as far up as you can. It is almost an art.

    Odor proof sacks don’t work that well. (BackpackingLight.com,Ari Jutkowitz VMD,2013)

    Bear lockers in the back country really will effect the back country camping experience…hardly private and focussing any damage done to single locations and often massive amounts. Not a great option, generally. Very disbursed damage is easily recoverd by the forest, generally.

    Reducing the bear population seems like the only viable option, but care needs to be taken to not repeat the great deer kill off of bygone years. Good for traffic, really bad for the forest. Is the DEC sure that the population of bear has risen? Or, have the feeding habit of the bear changed in response to global warming, easier food sources brought in by people, or simple behavioral changes to seeing more people in their woods? I support the DEC in the minor increase in hunting they propose.

    Bears wander. They typically wander about in loops with some traveling quite far. Bears in or near settlements are a problem that also needs addressing. Again, opening the St Lawrence to hunting, as an example, might handle the problem. But high power rifles in a populated area has its own risks, as we know.

    It seems that education, along with increased hunting in selected areas, will head off any future problems.

    • Paul says:

      “Reducing the bear population seems like the only viable option, but care needs to be taken to not repeat the great deer kill off of bygone years.”

      Marco, I think that was because of market hunting. Nothing like that is being proposed.

      I think that if we hope to control bear numbers via hunting it will have to be done by allowing baiting like is done in most nearby states and provinces. Otherwise bear harvest numbers will still remain pretty low. We also don’t have hunters killing bears in the problem areas like the High Peaks. It is too difficult to get the animals out of there.

    • Nancy says:

      I’m not sure I agree that bear canisters will not be used. I have three of them and I have used them as a single mother backpacking with my two sons since they were seven and nine years old. Heavy? Well, kinda, but I managed. You need a lot less paracord when you’re not hanging a bear bag, that saves a few ounces. The expense? $70 is not that bad considering how much money people spend on their Osprey or Gregory backpacks, their high tech stove, their ultralight tents… The convenience? A bear canister is a no-brainer. You put your food in it and stash it away from camp. You don’t have to hunt for the perfect tree. The requiring of bear canisters has reduced the rate of undesirable bear interactions in the High Peaks by 70 percent. The last time I was in the High Peaks the rangers came around checking to see if everyone had one.

      Considering the stuff I’ve seen people haul into the backcountry, a bear canister shouldn’t affect their pack weight too much. Except the ultralighters. But if they’re willing to pay $300 for a Cuben Fiber tarp, they can spring for the lightweight carbon-fiber canisters.

      So you’re right about the education being important, including education about bear canisters.

      I thought it was funny that Larry Master was talking about giving more folks the opportunities to see bears in the wild while in the High Peaks we’ve been trying to reduce the interactions with bears.

      • Paul says:

        I agree. I think they are pretty well used. they are a pain to carry but better than a shredded food bag.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    Yes, by all means, let’s reduce the number of bears to protect humans from these dangerous beasts.
    The problem, of course, is using the same logic would result in reducing the number of humans to protect humans since humans are the most dangerous animal on the planet.

  3. TiSentinel65 says:

    DEC uses hunting as a tool to keep bear numbers at healthy populations. Who would have guessed a woman would be mauled in Florida by a black bear? It appears they have a healthy population of bears also. Ask any hunter that spends a good amount of time hunting in N.Y. state and he will confirm that there are more bears in the woods today. By using hunting as a tool someone will provide food for a meal by the taking of a bear. DEC is correct in proposing the expansion of the season.

    • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

      I was waiting for someone to mention the recent Florida case. I wonder if that was an Adirondack black bear that just went down south for the winter.

      • Paul says:

        That is the thing about information sharing these days. It makes statistically insignificant things seem significant.

  4. Wally Elton Wally says:

    This emphasis on reducing bear-human conflicts seems to suggest the responsibility lies entirely with the bears.

  5. Charlie S says:

    My sentiments exactly Pete…. us humans do far more damage than the bears will ever do.And of course we keep eliminating more and more wild places that the bears and other animals depend on just so people can have a second or third home,or so people have another place to shop….
    I didn’t hear about the Florida black bear case but I know Florida and it don’t surprise me.What they did,and are continuing to do,to that state is horrible.One strip mall after another is the theme down there,and in as many remaining wooded places as possible.The bears have less places to go.The panther is faring much worse as they need more space to roam.

    The gopher tortoise in Florida was supposed to be a protected species.Tell that to the State people or the developers they represent.Developers are blind in both eyes when it comes to the natural world.They must have buried tens of thousands of gopher tortoises alive by now.Why? because new homes and shopping centers are more important than gopher tortoises.The State of Florida can give a rats ass about them.Their job is to support the special interests that throw money their way. You’ve heard the story I’m sure.They bulldoze over the tortoises terrain and the turtles cannot escape their underground tunnels….they bury them alive!I bet it takes them a month to die in most cases.Slowly they die,they suffocate,they dry out because there’s no means to escape to the outside world to find food or water.Many of these turtles had lived to be 30 or 50 years old…then along comes mindless man.These people who go around shouting “I’m proud to be an American.” WHY? What the hell are you so proud about?

  6. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    “Chuck Parker, president of the New York State Conservation Council, said baiting and the use of dogs are tools in managing bear populations. “The hunter will appreciate the increased opportunity to hunt bear, and we recognize our role in sound bear management,” he said. “I support hunting bear over bait and with dogs as sound and effective methods. Giving the sportsmen an increased chance of success will increase the participation in bear hunting.” Sound and effective? How about unsportsman like, and a way for unskilled hunters to finally score. What we need are more responsible hunters, and a fair hunt, not lazy hunters baiting bears with donuts. I’m reminded of Teddy Roosevelt, who refused to shoot a bear driven towards him.

    • TiSentinel65 says:

      Running bears with dogs is not as easy as you try to make it out. As far as skill, it takes lots of training for dogs to run bears. Any one that works with dogs should know this, but somehow this fact eludes you. People that run any carnivores with dogs are highly skilled hunters. It takes lots of patience and work, many days in the field, and dedication to actually get a dog to stick to a track and not cut off it to chase rabbits and deer. Then if you actually get a bear, comes the hard part. You then get to pack the meat out with the head and hide. If the bear is in excess of 200lbs. You are in for the workout of a lifetime. That in itself is a reason many do not shoot bears. It is a major undertaking. Also, hunting is not a lazy mans sport. Many hunters put countless miles up and down mountains every fall. It can be a nice leisurely sit in the woods if you choose, but the ones that are successful year in and year out put miles and time in. Your city version of the way you think it is up here is off the mark.

      • Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

        Ti, you are objecting to something I did not say. The key quote is “lazy hunters baiting bears with donuts”. I did not mention dogs. By the way, hunting is like every other activity I know of. It is not, in and of itself, noble. It is vetted by the folks who do it. Some of them are proficient, most are looking for weekend activities, and some should never own firearms, like the Dick Cheneys of the world. Do you consider canned hunts strenuous and/or fair?

        • TiSentinel65 says:

          Baiting of bears does not guarantee the actual taking of a bear. It is merely a way to hunt them. It is optional. Some people have health problems that keep them from actual pursuit that many hunters take for granted. Are you calling some veteran who had his legs blown off by a land mine lazy! Your animal rights views are boorish in that you and people like you keep trying to cram your trash down the throats of people who are trying to put food on the table. Being against hunting in the Adirondacks is akin to being anti-Semitic in Tel Aviv.

          • John Warren says:

            Ti, I know plenty of hunters that will not hunt bear period and will tell you in no uncertain terms that the use of dogs and bait is unsportsmanlike. Your suggestion that opposing such hunting practices equates to opposing hunting is foolish and you embarrass yourself with that kind of nonsense. You’d be a lot more persuasive if you were less hostile to opinions that are different from yours.

            • TiSentinel65 says:

              Yes John I should be less boorish, apologies to Steve for sounding hostile. I still will advocate for opportunities for those that may not be as fortunate as I to be able to hunt freely. We have non ambulatory permits that allow disabled people to shoot deer from cars on secondary roads. This proposal would provide an equal opportunity for those types of people to do some what of the same with bears. What is sportsmanlike is in the eyes of the beholder. What is fair chase is also in the eyes of the beholder. I don’t shoot bears because of the reasons I listed above, however I believe in supporting increased hunting opportunities wherever the game resource can support it. Too many people look at hunting as a sport, when in actuality, hunting is a life sustaining activity. If someone has a problem with the ways a person provides for himself, that person should be ready for argument. We should not complain about those trying to feed themselves while our mouths are full. Peace and food and food for thought for All.

          • Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

            Ti, the only person consistently “boorish” in these forums is you. You’re a master of strawman arguments, and very odd non sequiturs, and I’ve never seen anyone change the subject as quickly as you do when your outlandish claims are deflated. And since you opened that can of worms, “people like you” was a Marine squad leader in Vietnam, I Corps 68, and was indeed wounded in the leg. My best friend lost his leg up near Con Thien. That’s right, our “bears” shot back.

            Most hunters do believe in the concept of a fair chase. No where did I say I was against hunting, but I do believe, without apology, that baiting bears is cowardly, just as canned hunts are, and I believe that most other people do as well.

            • TiSentinel65 says:

              It’s simple. If you don’t like baiting bears, don’t bait them. It’s like the sun, no one forces you to stare it. But do not come to the Adirondacks with your animal activism and preach to the hungry about what constitutes fair chase. New York City is four hours drive down I87. You should go there and extoll the virtues of fair chase. I am sure you will find an audience with ready ears.

              • James says:

                Give it up you got housed in that exchange. Should we open up spotlighting to control the deer population? It’s simple if you don’t like spotlighting don’t spotlight them! That is some pretty incredible rational…If you dont like an illegal activity just don’t do it…incredible.

              • dave says:

                The hungry? Stop being so dramatic, Ti.

                No one will go hungry if they are not allowed to chase bears with dogs.

                You sound ridiculous even hinting that such is the case.

                And there are a lot of people who live in the Adirondacks, myself included, who very much agree with what Steve Hall has said here.

    • Ursus says:

      All I ask is that if you are going to kill me, do it as quickly as possible.

      Being chased by dogs or getting caught in a trap before getting shot sounds awful.

      But it would be amazing if my last supper was a pile of donuts.

      • Paul says:

        I kind of agree with this bear. If the object is to effectively control bear numbers by shooting them baiting seems like a good way to do it. I personally would not take part in any baited “hunts” but it does probably more effectively increase the harvest numbers. The bear has a better shake than the cow as far as “sporting” goes or especially the non-mobile plants have if you are a vegetarian. Those poor plants don’t even have the chance to run away!!

  7. adirondackjoe says:

    anyone who thinks the bear population is to low should come to robinwood park this summer or try camping on lows lake. there’s more bears than red squirrels.

  8. dave says:

    When talking about black bear-human conflicts, I think it is really important to be clear about what that means… because there is a lot of misinformation and fear surrounding this topic.

    Black bear attacks are exceedingly rare. And fatal attacks are just about unheard of.

    In fact, in the last hundred years there has been 1 (one) death related to a black bear/human interaction in all of NY.

    You are far, FAR, more likely to be injured or killed by *insert just about anything here* than you are by a black bear.

    This may seem counterintuitive to people who are afraid of bears or think of them as very dangerous animals, but I think it is important to keep emphasizing that when we talk about bear-human conflicts we really are talking mostly (almost exclusively) about nuisance issues. Property damage and the like… and not about the exceptionally rare (and sensationalized) attacks like the one in FL recently.

    • Paul says:

      This is very true. This is the problem with the flow of information these days. Things that are statistically insignificant are viewed as significant.

      It is just like the folks here that have talked about their unfounded fears of being shot by a hunter while hiking during hunting season.

      But for some a miniscule risk seems significant this seems to come from the fact we now quickly learn about the rare attack that defies the odds. Blame it on the internet!

  9. Todd says:

    Of the 1370 bear harvested last season I would imagine 95% of those were actually taken while the hunter was hunting deer and a bear happened to walk by the hunter. I consider myself blessed for having the opportunity to take a bear last season during the Southern bow season. Sitting over a bait pile waiting for a bear has zero appeal to me as it takes too much of the sport out of it. Increasing the length of the season does have great appeal, any more time in the woods is time well spent.

  10. Paul says:

    Philosophically speaking baiting bears does not seem much different than fishing with a worm, lure, or fly?

    An Adirondack brook trout is as, if not more, magnificent than a bear or deer.

    Is fishing not sport? It isn’t as defined by some above? Just an interesting thing to think about.

  11. Charlie S says:

    “…people who are afraid of bears…”

    There’s people who are afraid of spiders!

Wait, before you go,

sign up for news updates from the Adirondack Almanack!