WARNING: Maine Black Bears Ahead!
How many bears are too many? We may find out soon, as Maine’s bear population is at a very high level and continuing to grow.
It’s one thing to watch bears on your computer screen, compliments of Maine’s Wildlife Research Foundation’s new bear cam. It’s another experience entirely when a bruin shows up in your backyard.
In recent years, Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has issued advice that bird feeders should be brought in at night, or removed permanently, in areas where bears were drawn to them – including several locations in southern Maine.
Jen Vashon, one of DIF&W’s two bear biologists (the other being veteran Randy Cross, the nation’s top black bear biologist), says the state has between 25,000 and 35,000 bears, the most in 60 years, and we’ll soon have to figure out how to control the population - because the annual bear harvest has declined 25 percent over the last decade, dropping below 3,000 last year.
Up for discussion are longer hunting seasons, higher bag limits, and a spring bear hunting season – something the legislature ended decades ago in a decision based on emotion rather than science. While bear fur is prime in the spring, the fact that cubs are still with their mothers lead many to oppose a hunting season at that time of year.
In its 2011 Wildlife Division Research and Management Report, DIF&W reported that more nonresident hunters came to Maine to hunt bears after Ontario closed its spring bear season in 1999. “Their interest remained high until 2003 when a rise in permit fees lowered participation by both nonresident and resident hunters. The downturn in the U.S. economy has likely contributed to recently reduced bear-hunter participation, especially among nonresidents. If hunter participation continues to decline, we may need to increase hunting opportunities to meet bear management goals,” they reported.
Cross and Vashon will issue a new population estimate sometime in the next two years and with the help of a public working group, create a new bear management plan. Unfortunately, they are seriously short of the funding needed to know everything we need to know about bears in Maine. They would especially like to add a study area in western Maine to the three areas that are now being studied in northern and eastern Maine.
About 75 percent of their funding comes from the federal Pittman-Robertson Fund – a federal tax on firearms, ammunition, and other hunting related items. The remaining 25 percent comes primarily from DIF&W’s license sales, including bear hunting permits.
You can help advance the state’s bear research program by visiting the website of the Wildlife Research Foundation, viewing the webcam of Lugnut and her two cubs still snoozing their way through the winter, and making an online donation. Those donations support wildlife research, focused now on Maine’s black bears.
Coming soon to your backyard!