Maine bear hunters might get a second shot

This question on the survey really got my attention – “Currently you can harvest 2 bears, one while hunting and one while trapping. If the law allowed you to harvest two bears while hunting, would you attempt to harvest two bears?” I had no choice but to answer ‘yes’. There simply wasn’t an option for ‘Heck yeah!’

If you are a black bear hunter who purchased a permit to hunt or trap bear before the firearm season on deer this year, you may have a chance at helping MDIFW manage Maine’s burgeoning black bear population in the coming seasons. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is conducting its 2017 Bear Hunting and Trapping Survey through December 31st with a focus on methods and hunter success rates. If you provided your email address when buying your hunting license and permits, check your inbox.

In 2011, a new law went into effect that allowed two bears to be taken during the season if one was by trapping. This measure was most likely in response to Maine’s black bear population outpacing the success rate of hunters and trappers.

“Since 2005, the numbers of bear harvested each year has been below levels needed to stabilize the growth of the bear population.” – 2017 MDIFW Research & Management Report

The Department notes that hunting is the primary tool used for managing our thriving bear population. With roughly 26% of hunters and less than 20% of trappers successfully taking bears, it easy to understand why Maine’s bear population has exploded from 23,000 bears in 2004 to around 36,000 in 2015. To sum it up, Maine is seeing over a thousand bears a year being added to the population – and that is with the longest open season on a big game animal.

So how can MDIFW get ahead of the curve in bringing the bear population in check with its management goals? I believe the question I mentioned earlier may provide a clue. If the law allowed a two bear bag limit by hunting I believe the MDIFW would see progress made on stabilizing the bear population. As a bear guide, I can tell you clients would jump at the opportunity to take a second bear.

The economic impact of luring more bear hunters to Maine from competing states and Canada cannot be overlooked either. The ability to take a second bear during a hunt would not only draw more interest in Maine as a hunting destination, it would benefit MDIFW’s management goals and local rural economies that depend on hunting tourism.

So should the Department recommend increasing the bag limit by hunting to two bear?

Why not?

Currently an individual licensed to hunt and trap bear may take two bears a year. Does the method really matter if the goal is to stabilize the bear population? Perhaps a two bear limit by any method or combined methods would be a feasible alternative.

One thing is for sure; Maine’s bear population could reach undesirable levels resulting in disease, starvation and increased human conflict if left unchecked. If you are a bear hunter or trapper, take a few minutes to complete the survey if you received one. If not a hunter or trapper, support a healthy bear population in Maine by standing with MDIFW biologist recommendations when the next batch of anti-hunting legislation makes the rounds.

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