Hunters Ready For Bear Season

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August 27 marks the beginning of bear hunting season in Maine, and several factors, including this summer's dry weather, could make 2001 a very successful season for bear hunters in Maine.

"The recent dry weather has limited the size of berry crops that dominate bear's diets during the late summer period and nut crops do not appear to be abundant. Due to these factors, bears will be very active and we expect hunters to have excellent success during the first weeks of this year's 3-month season," said Craig McLaughlin, leader of the Department's bear studies. "However, the lack of late-fall food should result in many bears entering dens by mid-October, and deer hunters will encounter few bruins in northern reaches of the state during November."

Maine has the largest black bear population in the eastern United States, estimated at 23,000. Department biologists monitor bear population trends to ensure that hunting and other impacts do not cause population declines. As a result of one of the longest running intensive bear monitoring programs in the nation, department biologists feel that the state's bear population is at or near public recommendations made to the department.

While the bear population has grown over the past decade from 18,500 in 1990 to its present level, the number of hunters pursuing bear has also increased. From 1991 to 1998, the number of hunters who have purchased bear permits has hovered between 10,000 and 11,000, but the past two years permits have increased, including a high of 12,790 last year.

In Maine, black bears are found throughout the state, but bear densities are highest in Northern Aroostook, the Western Mountains and the Downeast region of the state. In these areas, populations average over one bear per square mile.

The economic impact of hunting bear and other game species in Maine is substantial. According to an economic impact statement issued by the University of Maine Department of Resource Economics and Policy, "Hunting, Fishing and Wildlife Associated recreation provide Maine with an important source of jobs, income and other benefits, and these benefits are particularly important in rural or remote areas where other sources of income are limited." Hunting generated $454 million of economic activity in 1996 according to the data contained in the economic impact report.

Maine hunters posted record harvests in 1999 and 2000, when they registered 3,483 and 3,951 bears respectively. McLaughlin estimates that this year's harvest will be similar in size to those in 1999 and 2000, but the final tally will depend upon the number of bear hunters, weather conditions, and bear behavior during the season.