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Black bear boom: Population growth, extended hunting season results in record harvest

By Andrea B. Bond

In 2008, West Virginia hunters harvested a record 2,069 black bears, breaking the previous year’s record of 1,804 and surpassing the 2,000 mark for the first time in history.

The 14-percent increase is attributed to a late-September hunting season that was added in an effort to curb population growth, said Chris Ryan, bear project leader for the state Division of Natural Resources.

“We’re very happy with the results of the season,” Ryan said. “We don’t know what the age structure is within that harvest yet because we don’t get that information back until October. But we’re very happy with the overall harvest that we had, and the percentage of females within that early harvest especially.”

The new September season was designed to harvest additional female bears normally not available to hunters in December because they have already gone to den, Ryan said. “That should help bring those counties back in line with their management objectives.”

Forty-eight percent of the bears killed during the September season were females, which is roughly 8 percent higher than the female-to-male ratio during the archery and November gun seasons and 12 percent higher than the ratio during December’s gun season.

Firearms season resulted in a record 1,590 kill, while archery season brought in 479 bears. December 2008’s harvest was down by 11 percent from 2007, but the deficit was made up – and then some – by the additional hunting days in September.

West Virginia’s bear monitoring and research project began in 1999 as a means to gather demographic information from bears in the southern counties of Kanawha, Boone, Fayette and Raleigh. In 2004, a study was added to include the northern counties of Randolph and Tucker and the eastern part of Barbour County.

“We maintain at least 30 collared females there, most of the time upwards of 40,” Ryan said.

Global position monitoring began in 2007 with the purchase of 23 radio collars that monitor activity patterns for up to 100 weeks, after which the devices automatically drop off the bear if the collar is not removed by managers. A donation from the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association in 2008 enabled officials to purchase additional traditional VHF radio-tracking collars, Ryan said.

“Our wildlife managers and biologists do a tremendous job trapping and working the dens – basically gathering all that demographic data – and we use that data to propose hunting seasons and monitor the population.”
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