Photo by Vic Attardo
It’s probably safe to say that New York is abuzz about bears. Following a record harvest in 2003, many New York sportsmen are once again anticipating a great hunt in 2005.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is presently engaged in a “high level” bear study; meanwhile, the DEC’s Region 5 office is conducting research on black bears in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness Area to determine the home range, seasonal movement, habitat use and behavior patterns of bears in the region.
Biologists use foot snares to capture live bears and then place radio collars on the bruins to track their movements. DEC staff will also be “shooting” bears (with paintballs) to mark the animals. In addition, they plan to haze nuisance bears with rubber buckshot and other “non-lethal aversive conditioning tools.”
According to the DEC, interactions between black bears and people have reached an unacceptable level in an area where hunters are also harvesting the most bears.
In the summer of 2003, there were 170 reported bear encounters with campers in which the bear either destroyed property — backpacks, tents and the like — or successfully obtained food.
Information on nuisance bears in the High Peaks Wilderness Area is needed to develop a comprehensive management plan with recommended actions to sustain an acceptable level of human-bear interactions. It comes as no surprise that the High Peaks Wilderness Area is in Essex County, one of the top bear-producing counties in the state.
New York hunters may never know how good bear hunting was in Essex County last season. According to Beth Renar, a DEC wildlife technician, the agency is having difficulty calculating the 2004 harvest for this area of the state.
“We have a problem with one of the major contributors to the harvest calculation,” Renar said. “It’s really putting a wrench into getting bear harvest figures.”
To obtain harvest numbers, DEC relies on three factors or sources. The information obtained from these sources accounts for 60 percent of the estimated harvest, according to Renar. To determine the bear harvest figures released annually, the DEC takes the factual number and increases the count by 40 percent.
The first hard source the DEC obtains is actual reported kills by hunters. According to Renar, that may seem like a rather straightforward account, but many hunters do not report their bear kill for fear of revealing “secret” hotspots to other sportsmen.
“These are small rural areas where no one talks,” Renar said. “The harvested bears go into the freezer and that’s the end of that.”
The second source for obtaining the annual bear harvest comes from DEC officers who see bears being removed from the field. Unfortunately, those numbers rely on chance as much as anything.
The third source is taxidermists, who report the number of bears they take in for mounting. Herein lies the problem in Essex County and the greater Adirondack Forest Preserve.
According to Renar, the DEC lost a major taxidermist this year. Renar said this source was also a buyer of bear parts, including skulls, hides, teeth, claws and internal organs (notably gall bladders). The buyer annually reported some 150 bears taken from Essex and neighboring Clinton County. He was the largest reporter of harvested bears in the region.
Faced with this loss, the DEC is forced to rely on eight smaller taxidermists-buyers for its harvest figures, but this may not provide the accurate harvest figures that the agency has issued for many years.
While the 2004 figures, when they are issued, may be a matter of debate, there is no question that Essex County is always near the top of New York’s bear harvest list.
In 2003, the last year that included full reporting in the region, Essex County hunters recorded a total of 198 harvested bears, the highest number in the state and, of course, in the Adirondack range. Of that total, 98 bruins were taken during the early season, one in archery season, 24 in muzzleloader season and 75 in the regular season. Neighboring Herkimer County recorded 192 harvested bears in 2003, followed by 159 bears in Hamilton County (both in the Adirondack range).
Renar provided a wide range of figures that shows Essex County is one of the top bruin producers in the state. According to her calculations, Essex County has accounted for 2,444 harvested bears between 1977 and 2003. Only Hamilton County, with 3,028 bears during the same time period, has a higher harvest total, but Hamilton County’s harvest has dropped off as late with only 159 bears reported in 2003. But in 2003, hunters posted record black bear harvests across New York with 1,864 taken.
OUTLOOK FOR 2005
According to Joseph Racette, a Region 5 Education coordinator, the county runs the gamut from lowland agricultural terrain on the shores of Lake Champlain to steep and rugged high peaks. Some bears will travel down to the low terrain. In fact, some beekeepers and crop farmers have reported bear damage, according to Racette. But by far the greater number of bears is taken in the upper elevations of Essex County.
Another good reason Essex County ranks as the “top” bear county in the state is the existence of Mt. Marcy. At some 5,344 feet, Mt. Marcy is the highest peak in the Empire State. It is in an eastern corner of the county along with at least four other peaks that range in height from 3,821 feet to 5,115 feet. This is a rugged area with few roads. The general location is south of Route 73 between Keene and Lake Placid.
Elizabethtown, home of the Adirondack Center Museum, is the jumping-off point for most of the region. The Adirondack Park Preserve contains some six million acres in a patchwork of public and private lands protected under state law. More than 2.6 million acres within the park are owned and managed by the state.
A major public-access area in Essex County is the Jay Mountain forest northwest of Elizabethtown and west of Route 9. Jay Mountain is a peak of some 3,370 feet.
Continuing north on Route 9, sportsmen will encounter another public area, Poke-O-Moonshine. Camping is available in this area south of Keeseville.
Renar provided a wide range of figures that shows Essex County is one of the top producers of black bears in the state.
The Sentinel range is another good option for Essex County bear hunters. The Sentinel range, which includes 3,600-foot Pitchoff Mountain, borders the Lake Placid resort region.
Between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake is the DEC’s Meadowbrook facility, which offers camping facilities on Route 86 as one heads west from Lake Placid toward Raybrook. The DEC’s main Region 5 office is in Raybrook, a good stopping-off place to obtain maps and other information about the area.
Southwest of Elizabethtown, bear hunters will find Giant Mountain. Fortunately, there are roads that lead along both the eastern and the western sides of this range, as well as the northern limits. From Elizabethtown, Route 9 heads south and there is public parking for a trail that leads deep into the peaked area. Route 9N between Keene Valley and Elizabethtown also provides good trailhead parking into Giant Mountain.
Parking for the Giant Mountain area is abundant on Route 73 between Interstate Route 87 and Keene Valley, one of the easiest ways to enter Essex County’s bear country from the eastern side of New York. Many sportsmen travel north on I-87 to Exit 30 and Route 73. From there they can travel north to Keene Valley and Keene and then west to Lake Placid.
The same route fronts the Dix Mountain area south of Route 73. In fact, trailhead parking south of Keene Valley often affords access to either the Giant Mountains to the north or the Dix Mountain range to the south. Dix Mountain is a peak of 4,839 feet.
With elevations like that spread across Essex County, it’s no wonder that DEC officials like Joe Racette say that bear hunting in the region is a tough but rewarding prospect.
“You can’t sit and wait for them to come to you,” he concluded. “You have to go in and find them.”
For additional information on hunting black bears in Essex County and the Adirondack Forest Preserve, contact the DEC’s Region 5 office in Raybrook at (518) 891-8216. Region 5 also has sub-offices in Warrensburg at (518) 623-3671 and in Northville at (518) 863-4545.
For accommodations, contact the Essex County Department of Tourism in Elizabethtown at (518) 597-4646 or Lake Placid Tourism at (800) 447-5224.