Maine’s annual bear hunt begins today.

Maine has a large and healthy black bear population. Eclipsed only by our November deer hunt, the early fall hunt for black bears has become a major contributor to the state’s rural economy. Guided bear hunts in early September by nonresident hunters comprise the largest proportion of the annual bear kill.

Each year, hunters take about 10 percent of Maine’s estimated bear population, which is in excess of 22,000. More bears are bagged in Aroostook County than in any other county, and about 70 percent of the statewide bears tagged are taken by nonresident hunters who spend about a week in Maine paying guides and sporting camps and buying gas and groceries.

This fall’s bear hunt runs until September 22. For the last month, guides and outfitters have been preparing. Once areas of bear activity are located, guides set up tree stands and select bait sites. Guides and outfitters must pay landowners for a given number of these site permits. For the rest of the month, these sites are ‘baited’ with something that attracts bears. Old doughnuts gathered from bakeries and fast food outlets have become popular bear bait. The idea, or course, is to keep the bruin interested in hopes that it will revisit the bait site when legal hunting begins.

According to Maine’s state bear biologist Randy Cross, Maine’s annual bear harvest has been down the last two years. Last fall, hunters tagged 2,659 black bears. That number is considerably below the five year average of 3,622.

“Actually, Maine’s bear population is up slightly,” said Cross. “I believe that the lower harvest is directly attributable to the banner wild berry years we have been having. From all reports (from outfitters and guides), bears just were not coming to the bait sites last year.” New Hampshire’s wildlife division maintains a wild food index. “It was so high last year that they had to revise their scales,” Cross said.

Depending upon how plentiful the bears’ natural forage base is, Cross said he is looking for a harvest this fall of about 3,500 bears.

Bears may also be hunted with hounds from September 10 to October 31. Trapping of bears is also legal from today through October 31.

There has been a significant change in the law that regulates trapping of bears.

Steel jaw traps are no longer legal, and trappers may set only a single trap for bears this year. Only foot snares (cable traps) and cage-type traps are legal this year. Starting in the fall of 2008, nonresident November deer hunters who want to harvest a black bear will be required to purchase a bear tag in advance of the hunt.

Bear hunting brings jobs and income to a hard-pressed rural Maine.

Maine’s Economy: A survey of bear hunters estimated that bear hunting generated $6.4 million, including $3.4 million of new money for the state’s economy provided by nonresident hunters.

Guides and Outfitters: Using the percentage of nonresident hunters that use a guide as a basis and multiplying by an average price of $1,000 for a guided hunt, the direct fiscal impact to the guiding industry is $4,564,440. This figure does not include other economic impacts, such as retail sales or taxidermy. This impact is felt in the more rural areas of the state , primarily the northern, eastern and western mountain regions.

Department Revenue: Although overall participation in hunting in Maine is declining slightly, sales of bear permits are rising, from 12,000 permits in 1990 to 15,214 in 2002. Maine residents purchased just over half of the permits last year (resident, 7,852; non-resident, 7,362). The positive fiscal impact of the early bear season on the Fish and Wildlife Department is also significant because of the number of permits sold.

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, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected]


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