Bear Harvest Difficult to Predict
Even though the state’s bear population has been stable since 1997, the harvest has fluctuated from a high of 4,936 in 2001 low of 1,915 the following year, due in large part to varying food availability.
"Abundant fall foods make it hard to bait bears, so hunting success is low," said Dave Garshelis, DNR bear biologist. "Conversely, poor fall foods result in hungry bears that are easier to bait."
So, what can bear hunters expect this year? Hard to say, although most DNR wildlife managers predict at least an average harvest. "It’s difficult to make accurate predictions of bear harvest because food supplies are quantified in a subjective way – by reports from field staff," said Garshelis. "Those reports show that in the northern part of the bear range, fruit production is delayed – blueberries and cherries are still available to bears. Normal fall foods such as hazelnuts, acorns, and dogwood are also delayed. Other parts of the state, however, show different patterns in fruit and nut abundance, so it is really difficult to say what the outcome will be."
To ease hunter crowding, the DNR issued fewer permits in some areas this year said Tom Rusch, DNR area wildlife manager in Tower. "We expect a slight decrease in harvest numbers."
"A lot of food seems to be out there," said Bob Kirsch, DNR area wildlife manager from Two Harbors. "The cool weather delayed the ripening of many plants, so they’ll be available in the early part of the season. The harvest is likely to be fair to mediocre."
"My guess is the harvest in the Cloquet area will be down from last year, but better than the year before. Probably close to an average season of 350," said Rich Staffon, DNR area wildlife manager in Cloquet.
"Bear hunter success is a mystery. Summer bear foods seem to be plentiful, and some folks say that bear will not readily come to bait if there are adequate natural foods," said Perry Loegering, DNR area wildlife manager in Grand Rapids. "Also, nuisance bear complaints are very manageable this year which means there are probably adequate natural foods."
International Falls DNR wildlife manager Frank Swenson agrees. "Any prediction is fraught with uncertainty, he said. "Bear harvests are inherently more difficult to predict because of the close relationship between natural food and harvest. But I would guess an average harvest. There are plenty of bears, but late natural foods make baiting tough."
Minnesota has between 20,000 and 30,000 bears – at least three times what the population was in the early 1980s. Numbers have increased because of greater protection against indiscriminant killing and a more controlled harvest. Even as late as the 1960s, bears were considered varmints, and some counties offered bounties for killing them. The situation began to change in 1971 when Minnesota designated the black bear as a big-game animal and held its first bear-hunting season. "That enhanced the bear’s reputation," Garshelis said. "But the bear harvest was still too high."
Bear numbers began to increase after 1982, when the DNR restricted harvest with a quota system. That system allows wildlife managers to adjust hunting pressure to either allow bear numbers to increase, and thus provide more future hunting opportunities, or to reduce numbers where bothersome bears raid farmers' crops.
This year’s bear hunt begins September 1 and goes through October 17. Total permits in 2004 is 16,450.