Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hunters take aim today at Pa.'s thriving bear population

Today marks the beginning of the bear rifle season in Pennsylvania, the second year the state Game Commission has started the season on a Saturday.
In recent years, the length of the bear season has fluctuated based on the number of nuisance calls.
The season continues Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The bear rifle season also overlaps the deer rifle season in Wildlife Management Unit 3D, continuing Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 2, 3 and 4."We've had an above-average number of nuisance bears," said Kevin Wenner, a regional wildlife biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Specific numbers of nuisance calls were unavailable.
Last year 284 bears were killed in Unit 3D, which includes some or all of Monroe, Pike, Carbon and Northampton counties.
Pennsylvania is unique in the U.S. in that nearly three-quarters of the state has habitat to support its estimated 20,000 bears. Some of the country's largest bears are found in the state, which has the largest overall population density of black bears in North America.
Given the ideal habitat the state offers — both natural and man-made — the number of bears and interaction with people is growing as well.

A growing population

Wenner describes the bear population in Pennsylvania as "extremely healthy" leading to larger litter sizes.
Usually bears produce about three cubs per year on average, but this year Wenner said many dens had four cubs.
The game commission estimates that 160,000 hunters will take to the woods to hunt bears starting today.
Last year the largest-ever bear by weight was killed by David Price of Cresco with a crossbow. Price's bear, which was shot near Fernwood Resort in Bushkill and affectionately named "Bozo" by those who fed it, weighed a whopping 875 pounds.
Authorities rely on skull measurements to determine a bear's standing in the record books. It was not known by the commission if the bear was ever measured, and efforts to reach Price were unsuccessful.
Could there be another bear that size shot this year?
"When you get up into the 600- to 700-pound range, you're maxing out," said Bill Williams, the commission's supervisor for information and education. "A live weight of 900, that could be. There could always be exceptions. You could see a couple in that range."
Joe Colyer of Pocono Lake shot this 767 pound
(estimated live weight) black bear in Pocono Lake
with a crossbow on Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday morning, Joe Colyer, 36, of Pocono Lake shot a bear with an estimated live weight of 767 pounds with a crossbow.
"I shot and it stood up, growled and it ran right at me," Colyer said. "I told the warden it weighed 400 pounds. He said, 'I don't know where you learned to estimate weight.'"

Are bears getting larger?

The short answer is, no. Bears that live in the Pennsylvania wild and eat berries and nuts and small animals are still the same size they were years ago.
Unfortunately, there are some cases where bears are being fed by people, affecting their weight.
"I think there are only 12 bears (in Pennsylvania) that have topped 800 pounds," Wenner said. "Is there a possibility? Yes, but it's rare. I think somewhere around 70,000 bears have been weighed and for only a dozen to top 800 makes it unusual."

Human and bears

Stop feeding the bears. It's a message that the game commission can't stress enough.
It's known that the Price bear was fed by multiple people, including a local restaurant, a major reason it reached 875 pounds. A bear's ultimate size is based on three factors — food source, age and genetics.
"People tend to look at (feeding bears) as harmless activity," Williams said. "It does habituate the bear. People tend to think that it's tame and safe to be around, but that's never the case.
"Especially sows with cubs and that's a learned behavior."

Old bear put down

A 35-year-old bear was shot and killed by a Game Commission officer in Carbon County last week. The bear, which was spotted lying in yards, was struggling with mobility, forcing officers to put it down. At 35, the bear was extremely old as very few bears have been known to live into their 30s.
A bear's age is determined by pulling the first premolar, allowing biologists to count rings on the teeth much like rings inside a tree trunk.

The future of bears in Pa.

The game commission continues to monitor many bears with radio collars as well. Those monitors produce information like home range and location.
During the hunting season, the commission can increase the feedback from the collar to an hourly rate, keeping track of data during the hunting season.

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