Here's a look at what's in store for Empire State black bear hunters in 2009. (September 2009)
Empire State black bear numbers continue to rise. According to Jeremy Hurst, big game biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, there are somewhere between 7,500 and 8,000 bruins roaming the state. It is not easy to say just where the largest bears are being harvested. While most bears taken in the Allegany and Catskill ranges are checked and good data is available, there aren't enough DEC biologists available to check every bear taken in the vast Adirondack region.
Hunters obtaining a New York big-game license are automatically issued a bear tag. The bag limit is one bear per hunter. In the Southern Zone, hunters may not take a cub, shoot any bear from a group of bears or take bears from their dens.
In the Northern Zone, hunters are asked to submit part of the lower jaw or a tooth of the bear for data collection. Many taxidermists are willing to remove and submit teeth.
In the Southern Zone, DEC wildlife staff would like to examine each bear before it is skinned or butchered, but the agency does not expect hunters to sacrifice the quality of meat or hides by holding the animal over-long for examination.
The Northern Zone's 2009 early bear season runs from Sept. 19 to Oct. 16. The archery season runs from Sept. 27 to Oct. 23. The regular season is from Oct. 24 to Dec. 6. The muzzleloader season runs from Oct. 17-23. Unfilled prior year big-game tags may be used before Oct. 1.
The Southern Zone's 2009 split archery season is from Oct. 17 to Nov. 20 and Dec. 14-22. The regular season in the Catskills runs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 13. The regular season in the Allegany range runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 13, and the muzzleloader season is Dec. 14-22.
In general, New York's bear harvest numbers have increased steadily over the past two decades. Last year, Empire State hunters took 1,295 black bears, up from the 1,117 animals taken in 2007.
In the Allegany range, hunters set a new record of 193 bears. In the Catskills, hunters topped the 2007 harvest of 453 bears by bagging 520 animals. In the Adirondacks, harvest numbers were well above the 10-year average of 515 bears, with hunters harvesting 582 animals.
Biologist Hurst said that 13 new wildlife management units had been opened up to bear hunting in time for the 2008 season, primarily to stabilize bear numbers in areas where growth might result in agricultural damage and increased human-bear conflicts.
The additional WMUs include parts of Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Wyoming, Genesee, Monroe, Livingston, Wayne, Ontario, Seneca, Yates, Steuben, Schuyler, Tompkins, Tioga, Cortland, Broome, Chenango, Madison, Onondaga, Oneida and Ostego counties.
The new regulations allow for bowhunting, regular season and muzzleloader season bear hunting in the Southern Zone. Specifically, WMUs 7M, 7R, 7S, 8H, 8N, 8P, 8R, 8S, 9G and 9H were opened for the taking of bears during bowhunting, regular and muzzleloader seasons. Season dates are the same as for adjacent units traditionally open to bear hunting in the Allegany region.
An updated map of New York's bear hunting seasons is available at www.dec.ny.gov. A map and boundary descriptions of the DEC's Wildlife Management Units may be found at the same site.
"We want to be proactive to limit growth and range expansion," Hurst said. "Those new areas are low density areas. They do not have a high number of bears now, but if we did not allow hunting, bear numbers could continue to grow. It's our intent to provide a buffer that will help keep the bear population in check."
Hurst said that both the southeast and western regions of the state enjoyed record bear harvests in 2008.
"The population is larger and our hunters are able to take more bears, especially in the western region," Hurst said. "The harvest there was 120 bears in 2007 and almost 200 last year. In the Catskills, we were several bears over the previous record. The weather was favorable for hunters; a lot of corn was left standing throughout the season, and snow conditions in a lot of areas allowed for good tracking."
In the northern part of the state, the Adirondacks are a stronghold for black bears.
"For the last three or four years, harvests have been below the long-term average," Hurst said. "We've seen numbers moving back up there this past year, indicating that the population has stabilized and the harvest has stabilized into the long-term average of harvests."
A map tracking the increase in bear distribution from 1995 to 2007 is available on the DEC's Web site.
Ed Reed, a DEC Region 5 wildlife biologist, oversees better than half the black bears populating the Adirondack range.
"It went pretty well," Reed said of the 2008 season. "The early season was very slow. There was a lot of mast out there and bears were not moving, but as the regular season went along, the bears were out late and hunter success picked up.
"The 2009 season success depends on the availability of natural food and weather conditions. We have plenty of bears in the region, but depending on weather and mast supply, we could have a very good season or a slow season. If we have a lot of nuisance bear complaints through the summer, then the early-season harvest is higher." Reed noted.
"Our bear population here is very uniform, so it's hard to pick out hotspots," Reed added. "Essex County is traditionally a pretty good county to hunt for bears. Schroon Lake is a pretty good area. There's a lot of new conservation easement land north of Speculator that's open to hunting now."
The Wickham Marsh WMA spans 862 acres in Essex County. From Plattsburgh, take Route 87 (Adirondack Northway) south to Exit 34, and then go north on Route 9. Turn right onto Route 373 east, then go about two miles to the access road and parking lot on the left.
For Giddings Road access, take Route 9 north to Giddings Road, turn right and continue on to Lake Street, where another right turn leads into the access trail parking lot.
Check DeLorme's New York Atlas and Gazetteer, Map 103, for area details.
The Lewis Preserve WMA in the Clinton County town of Altona offers hunters 1,356 acres of abandoned farm fields and second-growth forest. A hiking trail runs th
e length of the WMA, joining parking lots on Terrien and Jerusalem roads providing easy access.
Check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 103.
"We had a record season, and this coming season should be pretty good as well," said Larry Bifaro, Region 4 wildlife biologist in the northern Catskills. "I've got to believe the key factor is an abundance of bears. The season did seem to go on for a long time this year. Once bears den, they're out of the hunt -- this year there must have been a lot of food available that kept bears out and about. Hunters even got a few in the late muzzleloader season."
Bifaro said that in any given year, several of the bears taken in his region break 400 pounds.
"We've opened up a number of new management units, including Unit 4N in the Catskills," he said. "Several more units in central and western New York opened up as well. Unit 4N was opened to fill in the blank because we opened contiguous units and 4N probably should have been opened with 4F a couple of years ago.
"We have an abundance of state land, wild forests, wildlife management areas and state forest land," he added. "I would say that in the western Catskills any forested areas in Delaware and Greene counties are good for bear hunting this year."
The Vinegar Hill WMA in the Greene County town of Lexington offers bear hunters 394 acres of upland habitat. For access from Lexington, take state Route 42 for 1.5 miles south to the state land.
For area details, check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 51.
Great Valley WMA covers 184 acres in the towns of Catskill and Saugerties. Access from Catskill is via Route 9W south seven miles. Turn right onto West Camp Road and continue one mile to the state lands.
Check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 52, for details.
Bear Spring Mountain is one of the best-known WMAs in the Catskills region. It spans 7,186 acres in the Delaware County towns of Colchester and Walton. Access may be had from Walton by taking Route 206 south three miles to the state lands.
Check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 49, for more information.
"We had a very good harvest this year, especially in the new areas," said Matt Merchant, the DEC's Region 3 wildlife biologist. Asked about upcoming changes, Merchant said that soon the area would be referred to as the southern and northern ranges, rather than being separated out as Allegheny and Catskills regions.
"Ulster County, I think, was one of the standout areas for us this year," he said. "It always has very good bear harvests, as does Sullivan County. Ulster is often in the top two, and seemed to have more of a rise in harvest than did Sullivan. This year, Sullivan County's bear harvest was about the same as last year."
Merchant said that harvest success often follows nuisance bear complaints trends.
"Ulster County was quite high with the complaint load, while Sullivan County was down a little bit," he said. "It's been another fairly busy one this year as far as complaints, and so there will probably be another good harvest this year. There's going to be quite a few yearlings dispersing this year, so I think that's going to affect our complaint load and it's going to affect the harvest as well.
"Like a lot of states, New York has a little bit of synchronicity in reproduction -- it follows a good mast year, so we get pulses of yearlings going out followed by years when mothers are giving birth to new litters. I don't see any reason why this would not be another good year -- there should be plenty of 'em. We're still dealing with an increase in the population.
"The Catskill Preserve, Denning, Rochester, Woodstock and Ulster counties are all good places to go," Merchant said. "The harvest numbers are online with a breakdown by town. Find the highest numbers by town and that's usually where the most bears will be, year after year. Study a map, find the biggest state lands and head for ridgetops in the fall, places where the most natural mast will be."
A breakdown of the prior year's harvest by town and county may be found at www.dec.ny.gov.
Bashakill WMA provides hunters 2,213 acres of opportunity in Sullivan County, just 65 miles northeast of New York City. The WMA is south of state Route 17 and east of state Route 209, with major access points via Haven and South roads.
Check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 35, for details.
The Mongaup Valley WMA spans 11,967 acres in Sullivan County. From Monticello, go south on Route 42 about seven miles to the yellow blinking light in Forestburg. Turn west (right) on county Route 43 for about 2.5 miles, or follow Route 97 north from Sparrowbush for about three miles to the confluence of the Mongaup and Delaware rivers.
Check Delorme's NYAG, Map 31 for area details.
The Shaupeneak Ridge Cooperative Recreation Area spans 570 acres in the Ulster County town of Esopus. The area includes a portion of the ridgeline of the Marlboro Mountains. Four trails totaling six miles in length provide easy access here.
Access is off Old Post Road. Check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 36, for area details.
"If you're looking for bears, get as close to Pennsylvania as you can," Timothy Spierto advises hunters. The DEC Region 9 wildlife biologist is in charge of the Allegany range, where the highest bear densities may be found along the New York-Pennsylvania border.
Alder Bottom WMA spans 800 acres in the Chautauqua County towns of Sherman and Clymer. Access is by taking Exit 6 off the Route 17 expressway, and then take Route 76 south to the intersection of county Route 4 (Idora Road).
See DeLorme's NYAG, Map 39, for more details.
Hanging Bog Wildlife Management Area, four miles north of Cuba in Allegany County, covers 4,578 acres. For access, take Exit 28 off the Route 17 expressway, and then follow Route 305 north to the New Hudson Road intersection and take New Hudson Road north.
Check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 42, for area details.
The Allegheny Reservoir WMA spans 1,100 acres in the town of South Valley along the western shore of the Allegheny Reservoir. There are two managed parcels along Bone Run Road and State Line Road, which intersect off Onoville Road.
Portions of this WMA border Seneca Indian Nation Land and requires a special permit.
For more information about the region, check DeLorme's NYAG, Map 64.
For general New York State bear hunting information, call the DEC's Bureau of Wildl
ife at (518) 402-8883, or visit www.dec.ny.gov.
For an update on hunting conditions and nuisance bear hotspots by region, call biologist Ed Reed in Region 5 at (518) 897-1291; Steve Heerkens in Region 6 at (315) 793-2554; Larry Bifaro in Region 4 at (607) 652-2426; Matt Merchant in Region 3 at (845) 256-3063; or Timothy Spierto in Region 9 at (716) 372-0645.