New plan provides hunters with new opportunities
Starting this spring, bear hunters will have opportunities they've never had before in Utah.
More hunters can hunt black bears in Utah this year.
Photo by Lynn Chamberlain
The new opportunities have been made possible through a new bear management plan the Utah Wildlife Board approved in 2011.
John Shivik, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says the plan is giving more people a chance to hunt bears in Utah. "At the same time," Shivik says, "the plan provides some important safeguards to keep the state's bear populations healthy and safe."
Board approves hunting rules
At their Jan. 12 meeting, members of the Wildlife Board approved black bear hunting and pursuit rules for Utah's 2012 seasons.
All of the rules the board approved will be available in the 2012 Utah Black Bear Guidebook.
The guidebook should be available at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks by Jan. 31. The following are some highlights:
- In the past, most of the bears that were hunted in Utah were tracked with hounds and ran up trees. A few hunters have also used bait to lure bears in so the hunters could make a clean and effective shot with a bow and arrow.
But starting this spring, more spot-and-stalk-only hunts will be offered in Utah.
Hunters may not use hounds or bait during spot-and-stalk hunts. Instead, they must spot the bear and stalk it.
- In the past, all of Utah's bear hunting areas were limited-entry areas. Only those who draw a permit for a limited-entry area can hunt on it.
Starting this spring, though, the state will offer some harvest-objective hunts.
The number of hunters who can hunt on a harvest-objective area isn't limited, so switching a limited-entry area to a harvest-objective area gives more people a chance to hunt the area.
To protect bears on harvest-objective areas, the number of bears that can be taken on each area is limited. Once that limit—also known as the area's quota—is reached, the hunt on the area ends for the season.
Harvest-objective hunts will be offered on three areas: The Wasatch Mountains, Currant Creek, Avintaquin unit in north central Utah, the Beaver unit in southwestern Utah and the Nine Mile unit in southeastern Utah.
- The spring hunts on some of Utah's bear hunting units will run a little longer this year. The longer spring seasons will allow biologists to put more pressure on bears in areas where livestock are often killed and campgrounds raided by bears.
Protecting the bears
In addition to providing some new hunting opportunities, the new plan provides bears with some important safeguards:
- In the past, Shivik says three hunting-related factors have been used to determine the health of Utah's bear population—the percentage of bears taken that are female, the average age of the bears taken and the number of adult bears that survive each hunting season.
You won't find those three factors in the new plan. Instead, biologists are focusing on two key factors: the number of female bears and the number of adult male bears that hunters take.
(An adult male bear is a bear that's five years of age or older.)
Shivik says the number of females and the number of adult males hunters take gives important information about how a bear population is doing:
- The number of females hunters take is important because females give birth to cubs and then care for the cubs after they're born.
"But the best early indicator we have about the health of a bear population is the number of adult males hunters take in relation to the number of females," Shivik says.
Shivik says adult males wander more than other bears. The wandering the adult males do helps bear populations expand.
Because they wander more, adult males are also the bears hunters usually encounter first.
If biologists see that the number of adult males hunters are taking is going down—and the number of females is going up—they know the bear population in the area is declining.
"Once hunters start finding more females," Shivik says, "we know the population is declining in number."
In addition to the number of female bears and adult male bears hunters take, biologists are also using two important bear studies to monitor the health of Utah's bear population:
- One study involves snagging hair from bears at sites across Utah. After the hair is snagged, DNA tests are used to determine how often the bears that left the snagged hair visited the sites. This study is helping biologists measure how fast or slow the state's bear populations are growing.
- In the second study, biologists visit bear dens in the winter to see how many cubs are in the dens. The biologists also assess the health of the cubs and their mothers. This study is giving biologists important information about the number of new bears that are being brought into Utah's population each year.