DEC still grappling with options to deal with bear population

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By Brian Sweeney
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation this week closed the pub­lic comment period on a bear-management plan that would include an “early firearms” hunting season in the Catskills.
The comments will now be reviewed as part of an overall approved by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the added hunting period would commence on the Saturday after Labor Day and last 16 days. The DEC plan for expanding bear hunting in the Catskills for the next decade states that there are no non-lethal methods of reducing the number of bears in the state.
“An early firearms season in September will increase the bear harvest to achieve the desired population reduction,” the department states in its proposal. “Additionally, by timing the additional harvest during a period when agricultural damage commonly occurs, the early season may yield increased take of nuisance bears.”
The department estimates that there are 6,000 to 8,000 bears in the state. Of that total, 35 percent of the bears are located in the Catskills.
The DEC’s plan indicates that incidents of bear interactions with humans increased from about 50 in 2006 to more than 120 in 2012.

2011 was record year
Larry Bifaro, wildlife biologist with the DEC’s Region 4 office in Stamford, said that 2011 was a record year for nuisance complaints involving bears and that mark was broken again the following year.
He said that 2013 was a relatively quiet year for bear-related incidents. Such reports are also down this year, he said.
“Things are declining again,” he commented. “We are hoping we’re getting education out to the public.”
Mr. Bifaro said that ample vegetation and good berry crops are other factors that can help lower bears’ interest in seeking out food from humans. To lower this risk, he said that people should use precautions and make sure items like food, garbage and bird seeds are stored in secure areas.
“Keep garbage in a secure building — bungees don’t cut it,” he commented.
Mr. Bifaro said that majority of problems are caused by bears about one-and-a-half years of age who have recently been kicked out of their den and are on their own for the first time.
“It’s the younger guys who get into a lot of trouble,” he explained.
He indicated that bears typically keep their distance from humans. If a mother with cubs comes into contact with humans, her first response will be send the cubs up a tree and stand by until the threat has passed. He said that male bears primarily spend from June through August looking to reproduce and are generally focused on mating.