A couple of weeks ago some folks were lucky enough to see a black bear in the town of Pendleton. The news and social media were all abuzz over the sighting, just as they were in the summer of 2009 when a lone black bear stayed in the county for quite some time. Niagara County residents were then, as they are now, hoping to catch a glimpse of an awesome beast that is an infrequent visitor to our region.
Even in what is considered their regular home territory elsewhere in New York, black bears remain a rare sight. I consider myself a fairly decent naturalist and I spend a lot of time in the woods observing and/or hunting wildlife, yet I have had just a dozen encounters with bears in the wilds of Allegany County over the past 20 years.
That isn’t a number that jumps out at you and screams “overabundance.” Officials with the Department of Environmental Conservation think otherwise.
Last month the DEC issued their black bear management plan for the period of 2014 to 2024 (you can download the 41-page document at tinyurl.com/NYbearplan). In it, they cite a healthy and expanding population of black bears in the Empire State (an estimated 8,000 bears) as a reason for concern, as it could lead to an increase in human-bear conflicts.
In hopes of maintaining the status quo in terms of population and interactions, the DEC in that same report outlined their plans to bolster the harvest of these magnificent animals.
As it stands now, hunting of black bears is limited to the Southern Tier, the Catskills, the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes (the last territory an outcome of a 2011 expansion). If the DEC has its way, hunting will be expanded to all of upstate New York, including Niagara County --- and you know how rare bears are here!
The point of the DEC’s plan is to actually prevent the itinerant black bears from establishing permanent populations on the Lake Plains and in the Rochester area. They want the bruins totally eliminated even though there are vast wild areas where they could maintain healthy and safe populations (the Iroquois Wildlife Refuge immediately comes to mind). That extermination plan is something akin to the 1800s bounties placed on bisons and wolves (a “kill ‘em all” mindset), something we’ve grown to regret decades later.
The expansion of the hunt wouldn’t end there. The length of the hunt would be expanded as well. A supplemental firearm season would be advanced in the Catskills and Western Hudson Valley, bringing an extra hunt to the first Saturday after Labor Day.
Although not a part of the current plan, the DEC also intimated that they are entertaining the thought of the harvest of cubs and allowing hunting over bait piles and with hunting dogs – things that could be considered poor sportsmanship. It’s wrong to harvest a young animal (you wouldn’t do that to a fawn), it’s not fair to alter an animal’s behavior and feeding over time only to guarantee its harvest (it’s like hunting a farm animal) and although it makes sense to hunt upland game birds and rabbits with dogs (as they hold close to cover), you shouldn’t need them to hunt megafauna like bears.
If you count yourself as a conservationist, animal lover, or just someone with a passing interest in our local wildlife, take the time to write the DEC and let them know their management plan is flawed and they should not allow the reckless slaughter of black bears here in Niagara County and other locales where they haven’t established populations. Keep the hunting regulations as they are now, which do well in maintaining a hunting and conservation balance, and continue to allow the bears to flourish and become a regular part of our outdoor experiences, all across New York.
The public comment period closes on July 7th. Citizens who wish to make formal public comments may do so by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to: Mr. Bryan L. Swift, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Wildlife, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4754.