VERMONT – The state bear population has grown so large that officials are taking action to bring the number down. Because there are so many bears now, estimated at more than 6,000 statewide, the number of nuisance complaints from residents is at a record high.
Local farmer Keith Gray said the bears are wreaking havoc in his cornfields, a common complaint lately, said Scott Darling, the state wildlife program director. Bears are attracted to corn fields and apple crops late summer and into fall, but earlier in the spring and summer more bear complaints came in regarding bird feeders and trash containers.
Bird feeders should be taken down in early spring, many warn, as bears are “smart” and will go where there is food available. Beehives, pet food left outside, chicken coops, barbecues, and livestock are also at risk from hungry bears.
Bear hunting season is Sept. 1 through Nov. 14, five days into rifle deer hunting season. The state agreed to add four more days of bear hunting season beginning in 2013. The state will also require a bear tag for use prior to deer season beginning next year.
The state hopes that the additional days for bear hunting will help bring the population back into to check and will prevent nuisance bears from being shot by residents who are not licensed to hunt.
The nuisance encounters between residents and bears are caused by a number of factors, Hammond explained in a recent interview. People moving in and developing where bears have lived is part of it. The beech tree crop is almost non-existent right now, Darling explained, prompting bears to search for food elsewhere. A number of years ago the state began strategies to increase the bear population, and it worked.
“Twenty-five years ago, Vermont’s bear population was less than 3,000, and bears existed primarily in the mountains and in the Northeastern quarter of the state,” said wildlife biologist Forrest Hammond. “Through changes in hunting regulations identified in the previous Big Game Management Plan, we successfully encouraged bears to increase in number and expand into towns where their numbers were low.”
“But,” added Hammond, “Now we are seeing more incidents of bears doing damage.... Carefully regulated hunting plays a very important role in wildlife management.”
Hunters killed 396 bears last year in Vermont.
Hammond reminds hunters that they are required to collect a small pre-molar tooth from each harvested bear. “The collection of a premolar tooth from every bear reported is critical to the bear project."
The tooth is actually quite small and easy to loosen with a knife, he said. Directions for removing the tooth are on the back of the envelope provided by the check station. Officials are able to age the bear and gain essential knowledge about the status of Vermont’s bear population from the tooth.
The state has marked some bears with radio collars in the towns of Readsboro, Searsburg, and Whitingham. Hunters are urged to avoid shooting the bears wearing radio collars. These marked bears are an important part of a study this fall in conjunction with the Deerfield Wind Project. If a bear wearing a collar is mistakenly harvested, it is crucial that the collar be turned in to the Fish and Wildlife Department, Hammond said.
Hunters and others are urged to wear fluorescent orange vests and hats while in the woods, although it is not mandatory in Vermont, Hammond noted.