Extra bear hunting season in Sept. proposed by DEC

By Jay Braman Jr.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a draft species management plan for black bears last month that includes a plan to reduce the Catskill bear population by adding an extra hunting season in September, but not everyone likes the idea.
There are about 8,000 black bears in the state, with over half of them living in the Adirondacks and about a third living in the Catskills.
“Wildlife management can present challenges in trying to balance populations, hunting opportunities and environmental impacts,” Commissioner Joseph Martens said. “These plans will guide the management of these species for the next 10 years, and we encourage people to review and submit comments on the draft plans.”

Common problems
By now, reports of bear problems in the region are widespread. Not uncommon are reports of bears breaking into homes, garbage cans, and dumpsters, all in search of an easy meal. Often the result is just property damage, but sometimes the critter must be trapped and relocated. Other times they are shot by police with rubber bullets to scare them away from an area. In rare occurrences the animals are killed by property owners.
The DEC plan, which is not yet etched in stone, is to reduce the number bears wandering the Catskills by adding a special 16-day hunting season that would begin the weekend following Labor Day.
This plan describes five primary goals identified by DEC staff that encompass the current priorities of bear managers and values and issues expressed by the public: 1) maintain bear populations at levels acceptable to the public; 2) promote and enhance bear hunting as an important management tool; 3) minimize the frequency and severity of human-bear conflicts; 4) foster understanding and communication about bear ecology, management, and conflict avoidance; 5) and ensure that the necessary resources are available to support effective management of black bears in New York.
But before the plan is made official the agency is asking for public input until February 21, and already one organization in the region has come out against the effort.

Club shoots down idea
The Catskill Mountain Club, a Margaretville-based organization founded a decade ago to support soft activities in the Catskills like hiking, camping, skiing, and cycling, says no to an extra hunting season.
In prepared remarks submitted to DEC earlier this month, the club warned that those activities and bullets don’t mix.
“We feel that the establishment of a new hunting season in the Catskills, such as the one proposed, will interfere with other recreational uses,” the statement reads. “Lasting for 16 days beginning on the first Saturday of September, the new season comes at a time of high use by other recreational users, particularly hikers. Many hikers and hiking clubs suspend hiking during regular deer and bear hunting season. The concern about personal safety that causes this suspension is a real one, grounded in the incidents of accidental shootings that occur every year and in the use of high-powered rifles during big game season. For many hikers, the reward is simply not worth the risk.”
They also worry the region will take an economic hit as well.
“We are concerned about the economic impacts on local businesses that rely on these early autumn tourists. We feel that many of these customers, including hikers, bird watchers, fishermen, nature photographers, cyclists and others, would stay away from the forest preserves and thus the community businesses that they support. These various users represent a far larger group than do hunters.”
The DEC is taking comments on the proposal until February 21. Comments on the draft bear plan may be submitted in writing through February 21, 2014 to: NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Bear Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by e-mail to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us (please type “Bear Plan” in the subject line).