West Virginia Department of Commerce Chris Ryan cont.

Recent Pages: Chris Ryan cont.

Chris Ryan cont.

In absence of an early gun season, the state’s bear population and harvest has grown at a conservative estimate of 7 percent a year, Ryan said. The bear population numbered about 500 in 1980. Today there are between 10,000 and 12,000.

“Obviously, our nuisance complaints were going up, our damage complaints were going up … We did that big survey in 2006 to try to get a handle on what people wanted – whether there were too many bears, not enough bears, should the population be increased, decreased or stay the same.”

The population is influenced by two factors – habitat and hunting survival, Ryan said.  “Loggers cut most of the state around the early 1900s and the trees have since grown back. The bears’ habitat has come back, and we’ve had these conservative seasons to let the population grow, so they’ve expanded their range into a lot of different areas.”

The DNR sets the management objective based on responses from the human population. Early hunting seasons will likely be necessary in the future to help stabilize the female population, Ryan said, adding that the dates of the 2009 hunting season will be decided in May.

“You really can’t manage bears in a biological carrying capacity framework. We attempt to manage bears at the cultural carrying capacity, which is basically how much people are going to put up with.”

Naturally, with the upsweep in population comes the rise in nuisance bear reports. Bear sightings that were once limited to the rural mountains in the eastern part of the state have extended to the more populous areas of the west. The DNR typically receives between 1,100 and 1,700 nuisance complaints per year, Ryan said.

The number of non-hunting mortalities, however, was significantly lower in 2008 than in the previous year. Eighty-one bears were killed on highways, died as a result of illegal or marauder activities or succumbed to other non-hunting causes such as electrocution or accidental poisoning. There were 228 non-hunting mortalities recorded in 2007.

The number of nuisance complaints and non-hunting deaths are influenced by mast (available food) conditions, Ryan concludes in his report on Bear Non-Hunting Mortality, available in PDF format at www.wvdnr.gov/hunting/hunting.shtm.

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