In last week’s column I discussed why local residents shouldn’t be fearful of the growing number of black bear sightings in Niagara County. Bears, despite their size and reputation, are relatively docile creatures and man-bear relationships can be appropriately managed with just a little common sense.
Most naturalists and seasoned outdoorsman would agree with that, but the
folks at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) – who
control the balance of nature in New York State as much as the Creator
himself – disagree and are looking to manage, even over-manage, our
interactions with bears to the point that those interactions don’t exist
The DEC plans to do this by ensuring that bears themselves don’t exist
in Niagara County. This will be accomplished through hunting, which, the
DEC announced in late-July, will now be allowed in all of Upstate New
Starting this year, hunters can harvest black bears in Niagara County
with methods and seasons that coincide with the whitetail deer bow
season (Oct. 1 – Nov. 14), regular firearm season (Nov. 15 – Dec. 7),
and the late archery/muzzleloader seasons (Dec. 8 – Dec. 16).
This scheduling methodology allows hunters to take bears that they might
happen upon while they are out the field pursuing our most popular game
animal, the deer. This incidental harvest ensures that the highest
number of people in the woods have the greatest chance of taking a bear,
rather than having a separate bear-only season which limits both
participation and total take.
The point of the DEC’s new management plan is to prevent the itinerant
black bears who have been visiting us from establishing permanent
populations on the Niagara Frontier. They want them totally eliminated
even though there are vast wild areas where they could maintain healthy
and safe populations. That extermination plan is something akin to the
barbaric bounties and/or slaughters placed on bisons, wolves and
passenger pigeons in the 1800s, something we’ve grown to regret a
century and a half later.
The DEC’s management plan for the period 2014 to 2014 can be read online
at tinyurl.com/NYbearplan where they outline their reasons and methods
for the changes, as well as what may come in future iterations.
The current plan is bad enough, but there are a few items of controversy
that can be found in their potential proposals for the future.
The DEC intimated that they are entertaining the thought of the harvest
of cubs and allowing bear 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 --- especially when my fellow deer hunters and I are out in the
woods and can easily have our hunts ruined by free-roaming dogs.
Following my June column about this for the Greater Niagara Newspapers
(when the DEC’s public comment period was still open), DEC personnel and
friends of the agency said I was wrong in reporting that their
long-term strategy would include those 3 items of ill repute. But, if
you go to page 22 of their plan, under strategy 2.1.6, you will see
those ideas in black-and-white. I can’t make up the truth.
The Niagara County bear hunt is a significant change in game policy and,
to me, an unwelcome one — and I’m a hunter! We shouldn’t be
exterminating creatures that are trying to get a foothold in a rural
region that can accommodate them, especially a place that was once their
home before we took it away a couple of centuries ago. We should allow
them to populate and then, and only then, should we concern ourselves
with the idea of putting them in the trophy room and on the dinner
Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport, where he appreciates bear
sightings, knowing they won’t last for long if the DEC’s plans come to
fruition. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at email@example.com
From the 21 August 2014 East Niagara Post