Good news bears mentioning for future bear hunts.
Last week, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Erin Crotty signed a proposal that will open additional Wildlife Management Units to bear hunting in the Allegany Region.
The regulation change became effective Nov. 24, allowing bear hunters access to more areas when the season opens Monday.
Those WMUs in Western New York include 9J, 9K, 9M, 9N, 9P, 9S, and 9W in the Allegany bear range, all areas in the Southern Tier.
Increased bear populations in these areas led to the expansion. The Allegany Region has seen record total harvest numbers during the past five open seasons.
Hunters in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Steuben and Tioga Counties took 50 bears in 1999, 55 in 2000, 70 in 2001, 84 in 2002 and 95 in 2003.
Pennsylvania's three-day bear season ended Wednesday. Above-freezing temperatures each day may result in a high Keystone State count. Hunters there must have all bear checked immediately after harvesting. Regional data for bear hunts will soon be posted on the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site: pgc.state.pa.us. With continued warmth through the start of bear season in New York State, plus those additional areas open to gun hunters this season, that Allegany Region total may hit triple figures when 2004 totals get tallied after Dec. 19.
Shotgun deer season continues as bear hunters begin on bruins at sunrise Monday. Orange clothing, hats and other accessories remain an option in New York State, but savvy hunters should show as much bright color -- the ones not as visible to deer and bear -- as can be taken into woods and fields this big-game season.
Animal-rights groups in nearby states have worked through legislative moves and appeals to game commissioners to curb or cancel bear hunts.
Maryland held a one-day hunt Oct. 25 to reduce its population of nuisance bears that have damaged property and been involved in increases of vehicle collisions in Western Maryland.
New Jersey has seen similar increases and pressure from groups to cancel its 2004 hunt scheduled for Dec. 6-11. But the main source of opposition now comes from Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell, who opposes an open hunting season and has previously spoken in favor of either birth-control or trap-and-transfer options to reduce bear numbers.
Tom Jurczak, New York State DEC senior wildlife biologist, pointed out that not only is transferring bears risky to their survival, problems develop once they arrive at a new site.
"They either become a nuisance at their new location (relying on human food sources) or they find their way back to where the were trapped and continue being a nuisance," Jurczak said.
In New Jersey, commissioner Campbell refused to allow the state's fish and game commission to issue bear hunting permits, even after two Boy Scouts were attacked by bears near Blairstown on Oct. 13.
A three-judge Appellate Court ruled unanimously Nov. 16 that commissioner Campbell overstepped his authority in not issuing hunting permits. The commissioner has yet to release permits. A New Jersey State Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday on whether the commissioner has veto power over that state's Fish and Game Council.
In a separate move, on Nov. 19 Gov. Richard Codey indicated that state lands will open to bear hunting on those scheduled hunt dates.
Safari Club International discovered that canceling this bear hunt would result in a loss of about $2 million in federal conservation funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"It's a welcome sign that Gov. Codey is not willing to sacrifice conservation programs to support the DEP commissioner's private war to rule the N.J. Fish and Game Council," said Rob Sexton, U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance Foundation (USSAF) vice president for government affairs.
USSAF has been following each step of anti-hunting moves in New Jersey and throughout all northeastern states. That foundation will have a news release on the New Jersey State Supreme Court decision as soon as it becomes available.
Sexton expects the Dec. 6-11 bear hunt to proceed as scheduled in New Jersey.