Keep an eye on bear hunts in Colorado, Massachusetts

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Back during both of Maine’s bear referendums, there was a common refrain from the Humane Society of the United States ( HSUS) and others bent on closing down Maine’s traditional bear hunts over bait. It went like this: “Bear hunters in Maine do not need to set up bait sites in order to hunt bear. Hunters can stalk bears over natural foraging locations just like other types of hunting.”

HSUS spokesmen added that in states like Massachusetts and Colorado, where bear baiting has been banned, thanks to HSUS, bear hunting goes on and bears are still being harvested by hunters.

Those of us who support the traditional bear hunts over bait argued that, with Maine’s large bear population and thick, low-visibility fir swamps and thickets, the loss of the bait option would end traditional bear hunts. Bear harvests would dwindle significantly and bear biologists would lose the most effective wildlife management tool they have to stabilize bear populations.

Maine’s veteran bear research biologist Randy Cross supports this view.

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In both Massachusetts and Colorado, there are some new developments regarding bears that is timely and noteworthy.

In Colorado, black bears numbers are going through the roof. That state’s head bear biologist had this to say recently:

“The emergence and increased affordability of things like DNA, tooth cementum analysis and GPS tracking collars have given us new tools to know that Colorado’s current black bear population is robust and larger than previously believed,” Apker said. “Our recalculations show a significant increase in the population estimate from 12,000-14,000 black bears in the past to a current conservative estimate of 16,000-18,000.”

As a result, the worst-case scenarios for bear conflicts 15 year ago have become the “new normal” in recent years, Colorado this fall is increasing its bear hunting permits by 26 percent! And even though Colorado’s hunting terrain is far more conducive than Maine’s for stalking bears, state observers are doubtful that this fall’s hunt will cull enough bears to stem the bear population boom.

Meanwhile, closer to home in Massachusetts, booming bear numbers, even close to urban areas, have forced the state this fall to declare a new statewide bear hunt, in fact three separate seasons, September, November and December! According to South Shore outdoor writer Randy Julius, his state’s bear numbers are on the rise significantly. Thirty years ago, his state’s bear numbers were estimated to be in the low hundreds; bears now number more than 4,000 in this highly populated state.

Last year hunters harvested only 240 bears through stalking methods. Hunters would have to take twice that many bruins, at least, to even stabilize the bear population in the Bay State.

With our foes at HSUS waiting in the wings for a third possible assault on Maine’s traditional bear hunt, this fall’s black bear hunts in Colorado and Massachusetts are worth watching.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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