The numbers of our State Animal, the black bear have increased some forty-fold in the similar span of years!
The local counties where there was nary a bruin back when have become havens for the big time return of their prodigal sons. In testament, Wyoming and Logan counties respectively tallied the first and third slots in archery hunting kills just last year! What’s more, since the onset of the New Millennium, the rate of bear population increase charts like a rocket launch.
For the most part, the bears have done it out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Their restoration has been financed by the hunters of West Virginia and in particular, its bear hunters who pay for a Damage Stamp in addition to their regular license fees and excise taxes. Just such fees and taxes also finance the research conducted on the species.
Damage stamp funds have saved many a misbehaving bear from being put down. The fee and tax funded research has in turn provided the West Virginia DNR with the scientific knowledge to properly manage the species. The rest is history.
Over that span of recovery, the agency has maintained a project leader from the now retired Joe Rieffenberger, to Chris Ryan who completed his doctoral research on the critters to the present day’s Colin Carpenter. Using some insight provided during Rieffenberger’s tenure in concert with the data provided by their annual Big Game Bulletin for 2013, there are likely some 15 to 20 thousand bears that now call West Virginia home.
And yes, these are modern era record populations that may now be giving the colonial day a run for its money. Per Carpenter, four of the five recorded total (gun plus bow) hunting kills in excess of 2,000 have occurred in the past five years alone. The 2012 record year kill of 2,735 is obviously knocking at yet another new threshold.
With the Mountain State wild turkey and deer populations topping out or “saturating” circa that same millennium year of 2000, you have to believe that the bears will top out at some point too. The bears have expanded in the face of some significant hunting pressure and more of just that may now be needed. At a recent gathering of hunting lease holders at Logan, DNR District Biologist Randy Kelley requested hunters to consider bear hunting if they hadn’t already done so.
Why? His local DNR District V was being flooded with nuisance complaints and a little more hunting pressure might alleviate the situation. Where bears at this onset were once a rare trophy, today’s management is boiling down to population control pure and simple. That situation is one that deer hunters are more familiar with. No surprise then, a large male nuisance bear recently had to be put down within the city limits of Logan. Another reader provided a photo of a bruin destroyed for sheep depredation in a northern county.
Still yet, the bruins generally keep to themselves and out of trouble in the big picture. Only a small fraction fall victim to the nuisance death sentence. Lawful hunting can help in the big picture but we all can help by not feeding or enticing bears in any way. Not only is this illegal, it can usually result in the death of the bear. “A fed bear is a dead bear, and we have literally run out of places to relocate them,” per Kelley.
We should thus keep our pet foods and refuse in a manner that doesn’t encourage them to depend on us. Black bears have literally become our backyard neighbors without causing nary a stir. We can only return the favor by keeping up our part of the equation. Their future is in our hands.