Record Bear Harvest for 2003

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New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Erin M. Crotty today announced the record harvest results of the 2003 black bear hunting seasons. A total of 1,864 black bears were harvested statewide during the 2003 bear hunting seasons. This figure eclipses the previous state record of 1,070, harvested in 2000, and is more than double the previous10-year average harvest of 734.

"Opportunities to hunt for bear in New York State continue to be among the best in the northeast," Commissioner Crotty said. "New York's excellent bear habitat and vast, accessible public lands continue to offer exciting opportunities for hunting wild bears in their natural settings."

New York's black bear population occupies three distinct geographic areas or ‘ranges’ in New York State: the Adirondack, Catskill and Allegany ranges. Although bear populations, hunter and harvest vary significantly across these ranges, during the 2003 season, hunters harvested the largest numbers of black bears in the history of New York for all of the three bear ranges. Northern Zone hunters harvested 1,370 bears in the Adirondack range, with the 10-year average take of bears totaling 499. Southern Zone hunters were also very successful, harvesting 399 bears in the Catskills where the 10-year average is 188. In the Allegany range, 95 bears were harvested where the previous 10-year average is 44.

Limited food availability in the Adirondack range resulted in bears abandoning their traditional mountain habitat in search of alternative food sources in the lowland and agricultural areas. This resulted in an overall increase in bear activity, sightings and hunter harvests in the Norther Zone. Southern Zone hunters were successful early in the season and were able to take advantage of mild weather conditions which kept bears out feeding into early December, allowing many hunters an opportunity to harvest bear.

Among the bears taken, several were impressive animals with live weights of just over the 600-pound mark. These bears were reported harvested in the counties of Franklin (1), Lewis (1), Orange (1), Sullivan (2), and Warren (1).

In addition to harvest totals, DEC uses a variety of indices to measure bear populations. Taxidermists and DEC wildlife personnel collect age and sex information from harvested bears and movement data from tagged bears. This information is used to help determine whether bear populations are increasing or decreasing, and if bears are expanding their range. These data help DEC biologists manage bear populations and establish future hunting regulations to assure the perpetuation of black bear as a natural resource in New York State at a level which is compatible with human interests.

During the fall and winter of 2003-04 DEC sponsored its first black bear stakeholder input group meetings in the Catskill region and western New York. Stakeholder groups, including home owners, businesses, campground staff, hunters, farmers, hikers and backpackers, were invited to participate in a series of facilitated meetings to assist in the formulation, direction and priority of future bear management initiatives in these regions. Some of the recommendations of these groups included: increased hunting in the form of expanded bear hunting areas and/or season changes and a need for increased public education about preventing negative bear interactions by improperly storing food and garbage. More detailed summaries of the stakeholder meetings will be available on our website later this spring. DEC's bear management plan is available on DEC's website at www.dec.state.ny.us

Human and bear conflicts have been on the rise across New York State. The higher harvest numbers achieved in 2003 and the future implementation of some of the Stakeholder recommendations may help to slow down this escalation and curb the frequency of bear problems in the future and thus achieve a better balance between bear populations and people.