I have some serious questions about the current and past three bear hunting seasons in Pennsylvania. Let’s start with a brief history of my personal bear hunting experiences.

I have been hunting with a bear hunting crew (driving for bear) in WMU 2G every year since the 1970s. I remember in the ‘70s when our original bear biologist, John Eveland, recommended closing the bear season for two years. John discovered that the statewide bear population at the time was 2,000 animals with 400 harvested leaving only 1,600 bears. He said there was way too much hunter pressure at the time and bears were being overharvested. The population was crashing. After PGC closed the season, he recommended that the season reopens with only one day, then two, and gradually to three days where it remained for years until the population recovered.

Then came the new Commission bear biologist, Gary Alt. Gary transferred many bears to other areas of the state, from high density to low-density locations. Some transplants worked out and some didn’t, and as their range expanded and the population grew bear complaints increased especially in areas with high densities of people.

PGC’s response has been to open most of the state to more and longer seasons. Your decisions to include crossbows (which in my opinion are simply short-range firearms), muzzleloaders, and regular bow in the month of October when the pregnant sows are still moving about (not hibernating) are causing too much hunter pressure on the population and impacting the ability of the population to replenish itself.

Let me give you an example as to what is going on. About 4,000 bears are harvested each year. Let’s say that roughly half the harvest (2,000 bears) sows. Every sow that’s killed represents 3 cubs that won’t be produced every couple of years. Besides killing all these pregnant sows and potential cubs, remember that females don’t breed until they’re a couple of years old. No wonder the bear population could easily get into trouble.

Why has the pressure been increased in most of the state toward limiting numbers of bears, complaints? Why in WMU 2G? How significant are bear complaints in 2G? Is this responsible management of the resource? In my memory of decades, ago, the 3 day bear season was one of the biggest income producers for many hunting clubs, motels, restaurants, mom and pop stores, and other establishments in the Big Woods Country – second to deer season. PGC’s intentional overharvesting of the deer herd and the change to move the rifle season opener to Saturday has changed the deer season as a big revenue generator throughout the Northcentral for the past 20 years. Now the PGC is following the same path with bears.

From this year’s personal experience around our northcentral camp and the surrounding region, I feel that the bear population is significantly in decline. There is too much pressure that is caused by longer seasons and more lethal weapons. As Eveland found out in the 1970s, the bear population grows slowly, not like the deer herd. At that time too many bears were being killed as young animals before they could reach breeding age. History may be repeating itself. Let’s take note of how bad things were about a half-century ago and how long it took to bring the bear population back to respectable numbers. Let’s reduce the hunting pressure on bears.

Please start listening to the hunters of Pennsylvania. They may be your most valuable resource and their numbers are certainly not growing.

Prepared by USP Vice President Pete Kingsley