Bear harvest was third-highest on record

New York bear hunters took 1,358 black bears during the 2013 hunting seasons, making last year the third-highest bear harvest on record in New York, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

There were 1,487 bears taken statewide in 2009 and 1,864 taken in 2003.

In the Adirondack bear hunting area, hunters took a total of 380 bears, fewer than the recent five-year average of 560 and the historical average of 515 that took place between 1991-2000.

However, Adirondack bear harvest is the tale of two seasons. Bear harvest during the early bear season, which runs from mid-September through mid-October, is strongly influenced by availability of food.

“I wasn’t surprised at the numbers,” DEC wildlife biologist Ed Reed said. “We had a very light nuisance year last year. There was probably the most natural bear food I’ve ever seen up here. (There was) just everything: apples, berries, the nuts were good. And when that happens, when there’s a summer when there’s a lot of good food, the bears aren’t active. They don’t have to move very much, and they don’t have to come looking for food near town or anything, so they’re not as vulnerable in the early season. Our regular season harvest was very normal, pretty average.”

Early season only accounted for 84 bears being taken, approximately 65 percent below average. In contrast, hunters did well during the regular season, taking 246 bears, about 13 percent greater than average.

There were 22 bears taken overall in Essex County and 28 in Franklin County.

The early-season numbers were quite different from the previous year when 386 bears were taken during the early season and only 132 during the regular season.

The most Adirondack bears taken in recent years was 1,370 in 2003. There were 730 taken during the early season that year.

In the southeastern bear hunting area that includes the Catskill Mountains, bear hunters took a record 636 bears in the early season while hunters in the central-western hunting area near the border with Pennsylvania took 342 bears for the second-largest harvest ever.

These high harvests reflect that bear populations have increased over the past decade, according to the DEC.

In addition, an abundance of hard mast, such as acorns and other nuts, kept many bears actively feeding later into the fall and available for harvest through the duration of the regular firearms season.

Hunters took 224 bears in the central-western area of New York and 431 bears in the southeastern area during the regular firearms season. Bear populations in these ranges are in need of higher harvest rates in coming years in order to stabilize population growth generally and reduce populations in the Catskill region, according to the DEC.

A complete summary of the 2013 bear harvest with results by county, town and Wildlife Management Unit is available on the DEC website: www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/42232.html.

Bear management plan

In January, DEC released a draft black bear management plan for public review and comment.

The plan describes DEC’s approach to bear management which includes population management through regulated hunting, mitigation of human-bear conflicts, and technical guidance and outreach to the public about bears and conflict avoidance.

The plan proposed several changes to bear hunting, including expanding the area open to bear hunting to encompass all of upstate New York and establishing a supplemental firearms season in September for bears in the Catskill and lower Hudson Valley region.

DEC is reviewing the comments received on the plan and anticipates publishing a final version of the plan this spring. See www.dec.ny.gov/animals/7215.html to review the draft plan.