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Population Growth of Black Bears

 
Black Bear numbers have increased substantially in Pennsylvania, from around 4,000 in the 1970s to around 18,000 today. A dramatic growth has provided more opportunities for people to see bears, which is an experience many treasure, and bear hunting has greatly improved.
 

Today, almost three times as many hunters are harvesting bears - with considerably less travel required to reach them - than 30 years ago. In 2004, hunters took 2,972 bears from 53 counties. Then, in 2011, a record harvest of 4,350 bears occurred, which remains today the largest kill on record. In 2014, 3,366 bears were harvested in 56 counties. The seven top harvests all have occurred since 2005.

This increase in bear numbers and range, however, has also brought an increase in conflicts with bears. Property damage, the likelihood of serious human injury, personnel resources within the Game Commission who respond to conflicts, and public tolerance for further growth of the bear population all have been impacted by the increase in bears.

Nuisance bear conflicts have increased more dramatically in the northeast than anywhere else in the state. In the late 1990s, staff members in the 13 counties that compose the agency's Northeast Region were responding to about 600 bear complaints annually. In 2000, bear complaints in the region climbed to 813; the following year they exceeded 1,000; and in 2002 they numbered more than 1,100.

Several initiatives have been implemented to help address this trend. For example: in 2003 a regulation was passed that makes it illegal to feed bears; a statewide database for documenting human-bear conflicts is now in place; and emphasis has been put on educational efforts to show people how to coexist with bears. Finally, to lower bear numbers, beginning in 2002, bear hunting season in select areas of the state has been lengthened to include the first week of firearms deer season.

In 2002, this extended season occurred in Pike, Monroe and Carbon counties. Since then, the area included in the extended season has steadily expanded and now includes 13 wildlife management units.

Depending on the year, the bear harvest has increased 20 to 80 percent in areas open to extended hunting. In 2002, 443 bears were taken from the Pike-Monroe-Carbon county area. The same area typically saw a harvest of 265 bears per year, when the season lasted only three days. In 2004, approximately 1,000 bears were harvested in the 6,600 square miles open to extended hunting - an area where usually 547 bears were harvested per year before 2002. Today, harvest during the extended season accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the total harvest in those areas.

Although harvest has greatly increased, it has remained within acceptable limits. Agency personnel capture and eartag 800 or more bears annually, of which 20 percent aer usually harvested in the general season. The percentage being removed in areas with additional hunting opportunity has ranged from 23 to 25 percent, which is a rate that is believed to be safe in some bear populations.

However, the number of hunters taking advantage of this extended season is increasing, so we will continue to closely monitor the bear population and annual harvests. A record number of bear licenses were sold in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

The extended season is intended to reduce bears where conflicts have significantly increased. Yet human-bear conflicts may not decrease immediately because nuisance bear activity is also influenced by natural food conditions, dispersal of young, human population trends, and suburban expansion. It may be several years before we can interpret a relationship between increased harvest and nuisance activity.

Moreover, some nuisance bears live in areas that receive little hunting pressure, which is one reason why the extended season was placed within the deer season. Deer hunters are more likely to look for game in areas that traditional bear hunters overlook, such as small woodlots or areas adjacent to homes. Thus, allowing deer hunters (who purchase a bear license) to take a bear may help remove some problem animals.

 

Harvest in area open to extended hunting

​Year ​Approximate size of
area open to
 extended hunting
​Extended Season ​General Season ​Total ​% of harvest
occurring in
Extended Season
2002​ ​1,571 sq mi ​173 ​270 ​443 ​39%
2003​ ​2,500 sq mi ​149 ​264 ​413 ​36%
2004​ ​6,600 sq mi ​547 ​466 ​1,013 ​54%
2005​ ​9,964 sq mi ​795 ​807 ​1,602 ​50%
​2006 ​6,393 sq mi ​476 ​393 ​869 ​55%
2007​ ​6,393 sq mi ​293 ​283 ​576 51%​
2008​ ​10,485 sq mi ​439 ​661 ​1,110 ​40%
​2009 ​13,407 sq mi ​345 ​537 ​882 ​39%
​2010 ​no extended season ​ ​ ​ ​
​2011 ​19,210 sq mi ​878 ​1,159 ​2,037 ​43%
​2012 ​21,405 sq mi ​672 ​916 ​1,588 ​42%
​2013 ​21,526 sq mi ​780 ​892 ​1,672 ​47%
​2014 ​26,217 sq mi ​739 ​1,183 ​1,922 ​38%