NY Considers Expanded Hunting Season For Bears

07.09.14 | Sarah Harnisch

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation proposed heightened black bear management measures in May, as nuisance bear incidents are becoming more frequent in areas of the state.

The black bear population in New York varies in concentration — most of them congregate along the Southern Tier, the Catskills or the Adirondacks. But in past decades, the bear population has increased in certain regions to a point where bears are becoming a neighborhood issue, DEC Regional Wildlife Manager Michael Wasilco said.

“There’s concern that the bear population has basically reached the point where something needs to be done to increase harvest,” Wasilco said.

The estimated black bear population increased by about 40 percent in the Southern Tier and Catskill areas between 2003 and 2009, according to the DEC website.

Several bears have been spotted by residents in western New York and the Southern Tier in recent months.

The DEC’s Black Bear Management Plan for 2014-2024 proposes several changes to the current plan to maintain or reduce population levels in certain areas and reduce bear-human conflicts, Wasilco said. Options include a longer bear hunting season, and consideration of the use of bear trapping and baiting techniques that are currently illegal, he said.

Such techniques as trapping with snares or using dogs to chase bears up into trees have been illegal in New York state for at least 30 years, Wasilco said. But to deal with “problem bears,” or bears that are frequently pilfering neighborhood garbage, yards or birdfeeders, and to stabilize the bear population in general, these techniques may be of help, Wasilco said.

“It’s hard to target bears as it is,” said Wasilco, noting that even in hunting season, bears are not active in daylight and usually avoid people.

Snares are created with cables that don’t hurt a trapped bear — they only hold the bear in one place so hunters or officials can locate it, he said. Specially trained dogs chase bears into trees rather than physically harming the animal, he said.

The DEC also wants to expand the bear hunting season to include about two weeks in September, starting on Sept. 1, in addition to the early bowhunt and regular bear hunting seasons, which run from Oct. 1 to Nov. 24.

The bear problem is not yet critical in Region 8, which includes Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties, said Arthur Kirsch, DEC Region 8 wildlife biologist.

“Currently, the bear population in the Southern Tier has not risen to a problem situation, as it has in the Catskills. Sure, we get some complaints, but not so many as to characterize our situation as intolerable,“ Kirsch said. “The two biggest changes in our bear plan are the expansion of bear hunting to all of the state (except for Long Island), and an additional early bear season in southeast New York, starting the first Saturday after Labor Day and running for 16 days. Neither of these changes should affect our Southern Tier.”

There’s a greater problem in Region 7.

“We’ve expanded bear hunting areas over the past several years to follow the range expansion; in 2008 we opened the four southernmost Wildlife Management Units in Region 7 to bear hunting,” Courtney LaMere, Region 7 wildlife biologist, wrote in an email. “These include Broome, Tioga, and Chenango counties and portions of Tompkins, Cortland and Madison counties. We’ve seen increases in annual bear harvests in these units as the bear population has continued to grow. This new rule change will open the other four units of Region 7 to bear hunting including Cayuga, Oswego and Onondaga counties."

“In the Southern Tier, bears are here and they’re here to stay so we need to adjust our habits to avoid conflict situations,” she wrote. “We receive phone calls daily in the Wildlife Office in Cortland from people seeing a bear in their backyard for the first time or a bear destroying their bird feeder or knocking over garbage cans.”

Some Catskills residents argue that bear hunting is a popular sport in the area and that it is already keeping the population manageable, said Ramsey Adams, Executive Director of Catskill Mountainkeeper, an environmental advocacy organization in the region. This year’s Catskills population is between 1,500 and 2,000 black bears, he said.