The state’s Conservation Commission, made up of four people, could vote to approve the hunt next month. The first possible hunt would be in October 2021.
With between 540 and 840 black bears in Missouri, state wildlife officials think it’s time to check the bears’ growth and territory expansion with a hunting season.
I disagree. I’d like to see the numbers doubled before a hunting season is approved. That would lessen the chances of decline in the bears’ numbers, which are already under assault through habitat loss, disease and low birth rates.
Jefferson County has large tracts of forested land that would be suitable for bears, yet there’s usually only one bear a year that reportedly reaches the county.
I’m not an activist. I don’t have anything against hunting. But there’s something about killing bears that irks me. For an animal the size of a black bear to have pushed its way back from the brink of extinction in our state is something to be cherished. It gives me a sense of hope that if bears can thrive, the fragile balance of nature will too.
Besides the necessary population control, hunters pursue deer for obvious reasons: a buck’s antlers, hides and meat. I’ve never heard of anyone eating a black bear. I can only conclude this is trophy hunting, so someone can throw a bearskin in front of their fireplace, make bracelets out of the claws, or stuff the whole thing.
In John Winkelman’s Outdoors column in the May 28 Leader, Laura Conlee, the MDC’s furbearer biologist said, “The hunting season would provide Missouri residents with the opportunity to participate in the sustainable harvest of a valuable natural resource.”
Isn’t there another way to maintain a valuable natural resource than hunting it? I spoke with Conlee last week and wanted to know as much as I could about the state’s plan to allow the hunting of bears. She said if the plan is approved it would be highly regulated and monitored. She also said that people do eat bear meat.
“Bear meat is an excellent source of wild protein,” Conlee said. “Hunters would be required to retrieve all edible portions.”
Conlee understands that bear hunting brings out passions in people who are for it or against it. When Bruno the black bear made his way from Wisconsin to Missouri this month, social media sites were abuzz with tracking his movements. Bruno’s journey ended in St. Charles County where he was sedated and moved to an undisclosed location.
I’d hate to think that Bruno was taken to someplace in the Ozarks and set free, only to face being hunted next year. Conlee wouldn’t tell me where he was taken. It’s probably best. I’ve been saying the best outcome for Bruno is we never hear about him again and he goes on to mate and increase the state’s bear population even more.
“Bears bring about every spectrum of emotion from people because they are a charismatic species,” Conlee said.
“Bears bring about a lot of interest. Bears are moving around and if anybody has a sighting, we encourage them to report that. It’s a good way to monitor range extensions of bears.”
The MDC has been studying the bear population since 2010. Its original estimate was there were about 300 bears in the state. Since then the agency has followed 25 to 30 collared bears each year, helping it gauge adult female reproduction and cub survival.
“You can’t count every single bear,” Conlee said. “One of the things we know is their population is growing about 9 percent annually.”
She said mortality reports about the state’s bears aren’t an accurate reflection of population changes because bears get hit by cars and walk away from roadways, sometimes to die. The MDC can track collared bears with GPS or satellite. The vast majority of collars provide location information and allow the MDC to get a good picture of how bears are moving across the landscape and project their ranges.
During breeding season, a male bear’s range can be between 50 and 100 miles, Conlee said. That shrinks in the fall when their food supply becomes more restricted. Female bears have smaller ranges that meet their resource needs. Conlee said the females never seek the males for mating.
If the hunting season is approved, only single bears can be targeted. Females with cubs will be off limits.
The MDC has a black bear management plan with specific goals to protect both bears and the public. Conlee said bear management is very multi-faceted, with education a huge component.
“We have bears that are in areas they haven’t been before,” she said. “Twenty to 30 years ago bear sightings in Jefferson County would have been minimal.
“A big part of our plan is minimizing nuisance contacts. You can’t prevent every type of issue. When we have bears that get into trash or beehives there’s a lot we can do to fix that. Agents come out and work with people on how to store trash properly and protect property.”
One comforting aspect of a potential bear season in Missouri is our bear population isn’t stranded on an island that stops at our borders. Much of our state’s bear population is found in the Ozark National Forest; it connects with the Ouachita National Forest, which spreads down through northern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. Conlee said there are an estimated 8,000 black bears between the Ozarks and Ouachita. Arkansas and Oklahoma already have bear seasons.
If a bear hunting season in Missouri is approved, the application will cost hunters $10 and a tag would be $25. Only residents of Missouri can apply. The use of bait or dogs to assist in the hunt would be prohibited.
The 10-day season would start annually on the third Monday in October and end when the zone-specific harvest quota is reached. Those zones will be established annually. Hunters can bag only one bear per year, using archery or firearms.
The southern half of the state will be divided into three zones for hunting: Zone 1 in the southwest, south of Interstate 44; Zone 2 in the southeast, encompassing large tracts of Mark Twain National Forest; and Zone 3 in central Missouri, including areas around the Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir.
Conlee doesn’t know how many bears are killed by hunters in other states where there is a hunting season, but she did say their success rate is low.
To learn more about the state’s proposed bear hunting season, visit the MDC’s website at mdc.mo.gov/bears. You can also leave your comments on the site.
The time might come to start hunting bears, for various reasons, but I don’t think we’re there yet.