New England's 2007 Black Bear Forecast

New England's 2007 Black Bear Forecast

Here's a look at what's in store for New England's black bear hunters in 2007. (August 2007)

Photo by Steve Howard.

In 2007, New England's black bear hunters have a lot to look forward to. Hurricane Katrina knocked down harvest numbers in some areas during the 2005 season.

And during 2006, a bumper crop of natural foods kept bears off baits, making them harder to find. As a result, higher-than-average numbers of healthy black bears are wandering the forests of New England. Careful pre-season scouting and a thorough knowledge of the species are sure to boost hunter success in 2007!

Here's a look at what New England's black bear hunters can expect this season:

MAINE

An estimated 23,000 black bears are wandering the Maine woods -- the highest population in any of the lower 48 states! Once viewed as pests, bears could be hunted year 'round during the first half of the 1900s. And Maine had a bounty on the animals until 1957.

In the 1960s, regulations were tightened, and bear-hunting seasons were shortened to a six-month period. A three-month, fall-only season has been in place sine 1982.

The 2006 bear harvest was lower than that of 2005. Both years were lower than normal, according to Jennifer Vashon, Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Bear Project leader.

"Our preliminary numbers indicate a 2006 harvest of 2,659 bears," Vashon said. "That was lower than last year, but last year was lower than the previous five years. I think the lower 2006 harvest was because most bears were harvested with the use of bait. Even hound hunters often use bait, and so do trappers.

" Last year, we had an exceptional crop of natural foods -- not just for one type of food, but most natural foods. I heard early on from hunters that they were not getting the bears to respond to bait. In talking to other state biologists, that held true in most of the Northeast."

Despite a couple of low harvest years, Vashon predicts a good bear-hunting season for 2007:

"The population has been stabilizing or slightly increasing in recent years," she said. "With the healthy population, I would expect to see a return to the harvest rates we saw between 1999 and 2004, which were between 3,500 and 4,000 bears per year."

Normally, two low harvest years in a row would raise concerns. But the fact that harvests were down and natural food supplies were up accounts for the drop in 2006. And the first (usually most productive) week of the 2005 bear season took place during Hurricane Katrina!

"Unlike Maine's deer season, when most resident hunters can just go out the next week, half our bear hunters are non-residents who have booked a guide for a week. They don't usually have the opportunity to come back and hunt again the next week," Vashon said. "That's what we think lowered our harvest in 2005. Our studies indicate good cub production and survival rates and a healthy population of bears. We're going to watch and see what the next year brings. But we expect to see a return to our previous harvest levels."

Since 1983, Maine's wildlife biologists have been tracking 40 to 50 radio-collared bruins in any given year. The body of work gathered on survival rates, reproduction, behavior and condition of the bear population is one of the most extensive, comprehensive and long-standing bear studies in North America.

Like most of its neighboring states, Maine uses research and public input to set management objectives each year. Hunting is the primary tool used to meet those objectives.

"Funding is probably our biggest management challenge," Vashon noted. "Just like any state, we need adequate funding to get good information. Our funding has been dropping, and our responsibilities have been increasing, so you have to set your priorities. If increased funding were available, we'd like to go out and collect additional information."

Maine's bear season runs from late August through November. Hunters may take one bear annually. Bait, hounds, still-hunting, stalking and trapping are legal methods, but with various season dates.

At the time of this writing, the Maine State Legislature was considering changes in bear-trapping laws. The changes, supported by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, include reducing the number of traps allowed per hunter from two to one, and doing away with foothold traps. Foot-snare and cage traps would still be allowed.

"I'm not sure why two traps were allowed, when only one bear may be taken by each trapper," Vashon said.

"That's been an issue for a long time. It occurs occasionally that hunters do catch two bears, and they need to contact a warden to release the unwanted bear.

"Some people have released the bears on their own, but only with smaller bears. The regulations change under consideration provides the opportunity to take care of that."

The 2007 general bear-hunting season is Aug. 27 through Nov. 24. Hunting with dogs is allowed from Sep. 10 through Oct. 26. Hunting over bait is allowed from Aug. 27 through Sept. 22.

Both a big-game hunting license and a bear permit are required from Aug. 27 through Oct. 26.

For more information on the Pine Tree State's bear-hunting opportunities, call (207) 287-8000, or visit www.maine.gov/ifw.

For a list of Maine guides, write the Maine Professional Guide's Association, P.O. Box 336, Augusta, ME 04332-0336. Or visit the group's Web site at www.maineguides.org.

For travel information, call the Office of Tourism at 1-888-624-6345, or visit www.visitmaine.com.

MASSACHUSETTS

In the Bay State, black bears have been regulated as a game animal since 1952. Substantial changes in the hunting seasons and a bear study conducted in 1970 have resulted in a rebound of the state's bruin population.

There were only 100 bears in Massachusetts in the early 1970s, but the estimated population is now over 3,000 animals. The bulk of the bruin population is in western Massachusetts, with a good number of bears in the central region. Bears are rare in the state's easternmost counties.

Last year, Massachusetts's hunters harvested 148 bears. This was the second-highest harvest over the past 11 years. Only the 153 bears taken by hunters in 2003 ranked higher.

Berkshire County yielded the highest harvest numbers, as it has every year since 1999. Most years, Franklin County comes in a close second in harvest numbers.

Bay State bear hunters must buy a $5 bear-hunting permit in addition to their regular hunting license. Non-residents must buy a non-resident big-game license plus the bear permit.

Massachusetts has a split bear season, with 17 days in September and 18 days in November. The September season is timed to coincide with agricultural harvests (especially corn), while the November season is the more traditional time for hunters who like to stalk the hardwood forests and remote ridge tops. Most bears are taken during the September season, but some good-sized, late-denning males are dropped in November.

Hunting over bait was outlawed in Massachusetts in 1970, and hunting with hounds was closed in 1996. Incidental hunting during the firearms deer season and the trapping of bears are also illegal. Hunters with bears on their minds must either utilize traditional bear-feeding territories or still-hunt through berry patches.

Stand-hunting is the more successful of the two methods, accounting for 75 to 80 percent of the harvest.

No matter which method hunters employ, pre-season scouting is a must. If natural foods such as acorns, beechnuts and cherries are scarce, bears are more likely to head for the nearest cornfield or orchard.

When you're scouting, look for tracks, trails and piles of scat, or spots where bears have bedded down. Bears often beat down a path into their favorite cornfields and berry patches. Also look for claw marks or bear "nests" in beech trees. Wily old males tend to avoid human food sources and prefer to hide out in dense cover such as laurel thickets or swamps. Check for bear sign around the edges of thickly covered areas.

Farmers whose crops are suffering bear damage will occasionally invite bear hunters onto their property. Check with dairy farmers who plant extensive fields of silage corn. Avoid livestock, don't block gates, don't interfere with crop harvests and you could have great hunting grounds for years to come!

The September season opens the day after Labor Day and ends on the third Saturday thereafter.

The November season opens on the first Monday and ends on the third Saturday thereafter. Only wildlife management zones (WMAs) 1 through 9 are open for bear hunting.

Each hunter may take only one bear per calendar year.

For more bear-hunting information, visit the MassWildlife Web site at www.mass.gov/dfwele/dfw, or phone (617) 626-1590.

For general Bay State travel information, visit www.massvacation.com, or call (617) 973-8500.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

About 4,900 bears are roaming the Granite State. Bear numbers in many bear-management regions are at or above the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's objectives.

Making predictions for the 2007 season, NHFGD Bear Project leader Andrew Timmins said, "Hunter success will depend largely on food abundance. Hunter success will decline if food is abundant and will increase if food is limited. However, prospects look excellent, as we have strong bear populations across most regions of the state. Despite food conditions, scouting for bear activity prior to the start of the season will increase the chances of success."

New Hampshire's bruin numbers have remained steady in recent years. Timmins said that each bear-management region has a specific population objective outlined in the state's Big Game Population Management Plan through 2015. The population objectives of the plan reflect the density of bears the public finds desirable in each region.

Bear-season dates are set every other year. Wildlife managers manipulate season lengths and method of harvest (stalking, baiting, hound hunting) to attain a level of harvest that meets the population objectives.

In regions where the current population is over the target number, hunters can expect more liberal seasons, in the hopes of elevating harvest rates and lowering the bear population to a more desirable level.

If wildlife managers want to beef up bear numbers in certain regions, season lengths are restricted to curb harvest numbers.

"The greatest challenge in bear management is keeping bear populations at levels that are consistent with the public's desires," Timmins said.

"Essentially, regional population objectives represent social carrying capacity. The frequency of bear-human conflicts is one of the most significant factors in determining bear population levels. We strive to prevent the bear population from growing to the point where the level of bear-human conflicts becomes unacceptable to the public."

Keeping bear numbers at or below what society can tolerate prevents the public from forming negative attitudes toward bears, Timmins said.

"The department works hard to educate the public on ways to reduce or prevent bear-human conflicts. This effort increases the public's appreciation for and tolerance of bears and allows us to have more bears on the landscape."

During the 2006 season, hunters took 351 bears -- about 7 percent of the total population. The harvest was down 37 percent from the preceding five-year average of 556 bears.

Timmins said the abundance of natural fall foods, especially beechnuts, hurt hunter-success rates. When food is plentiful, bears travel less while feeding, reducing their vulnerability to hunters.

In years of poor mast production, bears roam far and wide in search of food, increasing their odds of running into hunters. This is a long-term trend in the Granite State: High harvests occurred during poor food years (1995, 2003 and 2004), and low harvests were taken during bumper mast crop years (1996, 2002 and 2006).

New Hampshire's 2007 black bear season runs from Sep. 1 through Nov. 20, with seasons varying in length across New Hampshire's six bear-management regions. To hunt over bait, a Permit to Bait Wildlife and a map of the bait site must be filed with the local conservation officer before bait is placed.

Baiting permit applications are available at regional offices. The number of bait sites per hunter varies by wildlife management unit (WMU).

A permit is necessary to hunt with dogs (available by mail from NHFGD headquarters).

Nonresidents must show proof that hunting with dogs is available to New Hampshire residents in their home state in order to obtain a reciprocal permit to run hounds in the Granite State.

Vermont's bear population density, about one bruin per three square miles, is one of the highest in the country.

Use of a rimfire rifle is illegal for bear hunting, as is a shotgun loaded with anything other than a single ball.

For general Bay State travel information, visit www.massvacation.com, or call (617) 973-8500.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

About 4,900 bears are roaming the Granite State. Bear numbers in many bear-management regions are at or above the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's objectives.

Making predictions for the 2007 season, NHFGD Bear Project leader Andrew Timmins said, "Hunter success will depend largely on food abundance. Hunter success will decline if food is abundant and will increase if food is limited. However, prospects look excellent, as we have strong bear populations across most regions of the state. Despite food conditions, scouting for bear activity prior to the start of the season will increase the chances of success."

New Hampshire's bruin numbers have remained steady in recent years. Timmins said that each bear-management region has a specific population objective outlined in the state's Big Game Population Management Plan through 2015. The population objectives of the plan reflect the density of bears the public finds desirable in each region.

Bear-season dates are set every other year. Wildlife managers manipulate season lengths and method of harvest (stalking, baiting, hound hunting) to attain a level of harvest that meets the population objectives.

In regions where the current population is over the target number, hunters can expect more liberal seasons, in the hopes of elevating harvest rates and lowering the bear population to a more desirable level.

If wildlife managers want to beef up bear numbers in certain regions, season lengths are restricted to curb harvest numbers.

"The greatest challenge in bear management is keeping bear populations at levels that are consistent with the public's desires," Timmins said.

"Essentially, regional population objectives represent social carrying capacity. The frequency of bear-human conflicts is one of the most significant factors in determining bear population levels. We strive to prevent the bear population from growing to the point where the level of bear-human conflicts becomes unacceptable to the public."

Keeping bear numbers at or below what society can tolerate prevents the public from forming negative attitudes toward bears, Timmins said.

"The department works hard to educate the public on ways to reduce or prevent bear-human conflicts. This effort increases the public's appreciation for and tolerance of bears and allows us to have more bears on the landscape."

During the 2006 season, hunters took 351 bears -- about 7 percent of the total population. The harvest was down 37 percent from the preceding five-year average of 556 bears.

Timmins said the abundance of natural fall foods, especially beechnuts, hurt hunter-success rates. When food is plentiful, bears travel less while feeding, reducing their vulnerability to hunters.

In years of poor mast production, bears roam far and wide in search of food, increasing their odds of running into hunters. This is a long-term trend in the Granite State: High harvests occurred during poor food years (1995, 2003 and 2004), and low harvests were taken during bumper mast crop years (1996, 2002 and 2006).

New Hampshire's 2007 black bear season runs from Sep. 1 through Nov. 20, with seasons varying in length across New Hampshire's six bear-management regions. To hunt over bait, a Permit to Bait Wildlife and a map of the bait site must be filed with the local conservation officer before bait is placed.

Baiting permit applications are available at regional offices. The number of bait sites per hunter varies by wildlife management unit (WMU).

A permit is necessary to hunt with dogs (available by mail from NHFGD headquarters). Nonresidents must show proof that hunting with dogs is available to New Hampshire residents in their home state in order to obtain a reciprocal permit to run hounds in the Granite State.

Vermont's bear population density, about one bruin per three square miles, is one of the highest in the country.

Use of a rimfire rifle is illegal for bear hunting, as is a shotgun loaded with anything other than a single ball.

For general Bay State travel information, visit www.massvacation.com, or call (617) 973-8500.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

About 4,900 bears are roaming the Granite State. Bear numbers in many bear-management regions are at or above the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's objectives.

Making predictions for the 2007 season, NHFGD Bear Project leader Andrew Timmins said, "Hunter success will depend largely on food abundance. Hunter success will decline if food is abundant and will increase if food is limited. However, prospects look excellent, as we have strong bear populations across most regions of the state. Despite food conditions, scouting for bear activity prior to the start of the season will increase the chances of success."

New Hampshire's bruin numbers have remained steady in recent years. Timmins said that each bear-management region has a specific population objective outlined in the state's Big Game Population Management Plan through 2015. The population objectives of the plan reflect the density of bears the public finds desirable in each region.

Bear-season dates are set every other year. Wildlife managers manipulate season lengths and method of harvest (stalking, baiting, hound hunting) to attain a level of harvest that meets the population objectives.

In regions where the current population is over the target number, hunters can expect more liberal seasons, in the hopes of elevating harvest rates and lowering the bear population to a more desirable level.

If wildlife managers want to beef up bear numbers in certain regions, season lengths are restricted to curb harvest numbers.

"The greatest challenge in bear management is keeping bear populations at levels that are consistent with the public's desires," Timmins said.

"Essentially, regional population objectives represent social carrying capacity. The frequency of bear-human conflicts is one of the most significant factors in determining bear population levels. We strive to prevent the bear population from

growing to the point where the level of bear-human conflicts becomes unacceptable to the public."

Keeping bear numbers at or below what society can tolerate prevents the public from forming negative attitudes toward bears, Timmins said.

"The department works hard to educate the public on ways to reduce or prevent bear-human conflicts. This effort increases the public's appreciation for and tolerance of bears and allows us to have more bears on the landscape."

During the 2006 season, hunters took 351 bears -- about 7 percent of the total population. The harvest was down 37 percent from the preceding five-year average of 556 bears.

Timmins said the abundance of natural fall foods, especially beechnuts, hurt hunter-success rates. When food is plentiful, bears travel less while feeding, reducing their vulnerability to hunters.

In years of poor mast production, bears roam far and wide in search of food, increasing their odds of running into hunters. This is a long-term trend in the Granite State: High harvests occurred during poor food years (1995, 2003 and 2004), and low harvests were taken during bumper mast crop years (1996, 2002 and 2006).

New Hampshire's 2007 black bear season runs from Sep. 1 through Nov. 20, with seasons varying in length across New Hampshire's six bear-management regions. To hunt over bait, a Permit to Bait Wildlife and a map of the bait site must be filed with the local conservation officer before bait is placed.

Baiting permit applications are available at regional offices. The number of bait sites per hunter varies by wildlife management unit (WMU).

A permit is necessary to hunt with dogs (available by mail from NHFGD headquarters). Nonresidents must show proof that hunting with dogs is available to New Hampshire residents in their home state in order to obtain a reciprocal permit to run hounds in the Granite State.

Vermont's bear population density, about one bruin per three square miles, is one of the highest in the country.

Use of a rimfire rifle is illegal for bear hunting, as is a shotgun loaded with anything other than a single ball.

For more information about bear hunting in New Hampshire, visit www.wildlife.state.nh.us and click on "Hunting."

Season dates, harvest rates by year and WMU, the state's Big Game Management Plan, a link to licenses, hunting guides and more may be downloaded from this Web site.

For travel planning, call 1-800- 386-4664 or (603) 271-2665 to speak to New Hampshire Department of Tourism staff. Or you can log on to www.visitnh.gov.

VERMONT

Like most of its New England neighbors, the Green Mountain State experienced a bumper crop of beechnuts and corresponding below-average bear harvests last year.

"The 2006 Vermont black bear season resulted in 317 legally reported bears," said Scott Darling, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Wildlife biologist.

"This was below the average harvests over the previous three years. Beechnut crops were excellent throughout the state, and bears were widely distributed -- making them less accessible to hunters."

Vermont's wildlife managers, too, struggle with the challenge of limiting bear-human conflicts. Darling said habitat conservation is another challenge. Bear populations have remained stable for the past several years and are estimated at about 4,500 animals. Vermont's bear population density, about one bruin per three square miles, is one of the highest in the country.

"Healthy bear populations throughout much of the state should yield excellent hunting opportunities in 2007," Darling predicted.

Season dates are Sept. 1 through Nov. 14. In Vermont, bears may be taken by gun, bow and arrow or crossbow (by special permit only). Bears cannot be trapped, and hunters are not allowed to use bait or hunt a baited area. It's also illegal to shoot a bear in the act of raiding a backyard bird feeder.

Hunters are allowed to use dogs to take bears only if the person in charge of the dogs holds a bear-dog permit issued by the VFWD commissioner.

There may be no more than six dogs in a pack, and packs may not be relayed. Non-resident bear-dog permits are issued by lottery.

Early in the season, Vermont bruins prefer late-ripening berries, black cherries and field corn. Later, apples, beechnuts and acorns will attract hungry bears looking to bulk up for the winter.

For more information on bear-hunting opportunities in Vermont, call the Rutland Fish and Wildlife office at (802) 786-0040, or you can visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

For travel information, call the Vermont Department of Tourism at (802) 828-3237 or visit www.travel-vermont.com.

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