Tuesday, August 26, 2014

EXPLORING THE NIAGARA FRONTIER: Bear hunting coming to Niagara County

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 at all.

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 York.

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 table.

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 bobconfer@juno.com 

From the 21 August 2014 East Niagara Post

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