Board Votes to Increase Vermont’s Black Bear Hunting Opportunities

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Board Votes to Increase Vermont’s black bear Hunting Opportunities
Early season bear tag also part of proposed changes to bear hunting

The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Board on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a proposal designed to stabilize the growth in Vermont’s bear population, expand hunter opportunity, and provide Fish & Wildlife Department biologists with important data to better manage black bears in Vermont.

The board voted on a proposal presented by department biologists that would extend the annual bear season by four days and establish a new, separate black bear tag for those hunters who want to pursue bear in advance of the November deer rifle season.

Under the proposal, the overlap of the annual bear and November deer rifle season would increase from five to nine days. Additionally, bear hunters pursuing bears from the Sept. 1 opening day of bear season up until the opening day of deer season would be required to purchase an inexpensive bear tag ($5 for residents and $15 for nonresidents). Hunters wishing to only take a bear during the time period of the bear season overlap with the November deer season will continue to get a bear tag along with their deer tag on their general hunting license at no additional cost. The changes will take effect in 2013.

“We’re fortunate in Vermont to have a healthy, and growing, black bear population,” said Mark Scott, Director of Wildlife for Vermont Fish & Wildlife. “The additional four days of hunting opportunities we’ll add in November under this proposal will help us to slowly stabilize the bear population. Additionally, the bear license will enable us to gather essential information about hunter effort and success as well as an idea of overall bear hunter numbers, measures that are vital for better estimates of bear populations across Vermont. It is our belief that bear management in Vermont can then be more responsive to changing bear populations and public interests.”

Biologists estimate Vermont’s bear population at about 6,000 animals, which is at the upper end of the population goals outlined in the Vermont Big Game Management Plan (2010-2020). Four hundred bears were harvested in 2011. Hunters typically harvest between 400-600 black bears each autumn in Vermont. The annual bag limit for bears is one per hunter.

“In 1990, Vermont’s bear season was shortened by four days in November because we had an objective at that time to increase the bear population,” said Scott. “We achieved that objective, and now we’re aiming to stabilize the population. In recent years we’ve seen a tripling of bear-human conflicts and an eightfold increase in automobile collisions with bears.”

As part of the Fish & Wildlife Board’s rule process, the proposal must be voted on at two more upcoming board meetings. Additionally, the department is recommending that one or more public hearings be held related to the adoption of this rule.