The state Department of Environmental Conservation is still accepting public comments on its black bear management plan. The proposed plan, which is available on the DEC's website, outlines management priorities for the next 10 years.
The plan describes five primary goals: "To maintain bear populations at levels acceptable to the public; promote and enhance bear hunting as an important management tool; minimize the frequency and severity of human-bear conflicts; foster understanding and communication about bear ecology, management and conflict avoidance; and, ensure the necessary resources are available to support effective management of black bears in New York."
Many of the strategies identified in the plan are already occurring. Others reflect new work to be more fully developed during the next 10 years.
The plan includes proposals to expand bear hunting opportunities in many wildlife management units, especially in the Catskills and western Hudson Valley where in recent years human-bear conflicts have become more common and pose a serious threat to human safety and property.
Black bears are a very popular wildlife species among the general public, according to the DEC, but can pose significant challenges when the bears become too abundant or are acting boldly in populated areas.
The estimated black bear population in New York in areas open to hunting is estimated to be at a minimum of 6,000 to 8,000 bears, according to the plan. About 50 to 60 percent of those bears are in the Adirondack region, about 30 to 35 percent are in the Catskills and 10 to 15 percent are in central and western New York. Bears are also now well established in the Tug Hill, Hudson Valley and across the Southern Tier.
"Populations are moderately stable in the Adirondack region, and population growth appears to be slowing in the Catskill region," states the plan. "However, bear populations are clearly increasing in other areas. In short, there is little doubt that black bear populations are secure for the foreseeable future. Thus, in keeping with recommendations from previous stakeholder input groups, the challenge for the next 10 years will be to stabilize black bear populations in most areas, reduce populations in a few areas, and prevent bear establishments in others to achieve the desired balance of positive and negative impacts that bears can have for the public."
Monitoring black bear populations is a challenging task for the DEC because the animal is often very reclusive and they live in forested landscapes away from people.
In areas where bears are hunted, DEC has tracked harvest numbers, including sex ratios, ages and weights of the animals. DEC also collects premolar teeth from 60 percent of harvested bears.
"Simple harvest trends generally reflect bear population trends if hunter harvest rates are relatively constant," states the plan. "However, this is not always true, especially when regulation changes affect hunter effort or as fluctuations in mast crops affect bear movements and bear vulnerability to hunters. In spite of this, total bear harvests are a reasonably good indicator of population trends over the long-term. However, in the short-term, year-to-year changes in harvest may not reflect similar changes in the overall population and could be misleading."
The DEC is working to utilize several new techniques to improve the reliability of bear population and growth-rate estimates.
The DEC is asking big-game hunters to keep a diary during the regular firearms season that will be used in combination with the long-standing bowhunter sightings log. This will provide info on bear encounter rates and document areas were bears do and don't occupy. These methods will be evaluated by DEC over the next few years.
DEC will also mark bears in regions throughout the state. Monitoring these bears "over time, will provide field-based information to monitor long-term trends in reproduction, survival and harvest rates."
Comments on the draft bear plan may be submitted in writing through Feb. 21 to: NYSDEC Bureau of Wildlife, Bear Management Plan, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org (type "Bear Plan" in the subject line).