DNR Proposing More Liberal Black Bear Hunting


A growing number of problems with an expanding black bear population in West Virginia have the DNR considering changes to trim their numbers.

Biologists presented their proposals to members of the state’s Natural Resources Commission Sunday.   The changes call for creation of a September bear hunt in various counties aimed at reducing the population.

"Basically our proposals reflect that most of our traditional mountain counties are above management objectives or what people want,” said DNR bear biologist Chris Ryan. "We’ve proposed an earlier season that will likely increase that female harvest and bring them more in line with our management objectives."

The idea is a reversal from the approach taken by the DNR in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.    Former DNR Bear Project Leader Joe Riffenberger determined through his research bears would survive and thrive if the hunting season was moved to December.  The shift allowed pregnant females time to go to den and be protected as hunters killed males and unbred females who tend to hold out longer on winter hibernation.   Ryan believes modifying the practice will bring the population down 10 to 20 percent.

The proposed change come as the problems involving nuisance bears are growing.   Ryan says the state received 1,598 calls to the district offices for nuisance bears.    It’s the highest number of bear complaints in history.   The complaints resulted in the payment of $188,000 in bear damage claims.

The research firm Responsive Management in Harrisonburg, Virginia studied the issue.  Survey results indicate West Virginians don’t want to see a return to the days when bears were almost non-existent, but they would like to return to a time when dog food is eaten by their dog and bird feeders attract blue-jays and robins rather than a sow bear and three cubs.

"The survey work is showing that more people in the mountain counties want to see a decrease," explained Ryan. "We’re not talking about a drastic reduction, but a reduction back to where people think it’s most manageable."

To reach the goal, DNR has crafted a somewhat complicated plan creating additional opportunities for gun hunters and dog hunters in the mountain counties, additional bag limits in the southern counties of Kanawha, Boone, Fayette, and Raleigh, and a concurrent bear hunting season during bucks only gun season in Monongalia County.    

The proposals are still pending before the Natural Resources Commission and will be out for public comment during the upcoming Sportsmen’s Sectional Meetings during March.  Commissioners will weigh the public comments against the suggestions of biologists and make the final decision later in the year.  


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