Spring bear hunt may be restored in Maine

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 PHOTO: Jen Vashon, DIF&W wildlife biologist. John Holyoke photo, Bangor Daily News.

There are lots of issues – and some controversial decisions – in the new management plans for deer, bear, moose, and turkeys. A Big Game Steering Committee is working actively with DIF&W’s Wildlife Division staff to complete draft plans which will then go to the public for comment. DIF&W’s Commissioner has final authority to approve the plans.

Here’s a look at some of the issues with the new bear management plan discussed at the January 4 Steering Committee meeting. I will also post report soon on the discussion and issues in the deer, moose, and turkey plans.

Bears

Responding to the Bear Steering Committee’s concerns that we need to reduce the bear population, SAM’s Dave Trahan reported getting complaints from hunters about a lack of bait sites, and said we need a new strategy to move hunters into areas with lots of small bears. “We can’t rely on trophy hunters” to reduce the population of bears, he noted. Jen Vashon, a DIF&W wildlife biologist who specializes in bears and lynx, reported that the majority of bears are smaller and younger than hunters are looking for.

As the debate over bait continued, I was reminded of Dr. Robert Shelton, who shot a number of bears in northern Maine while hunting over natural bait, such as berries. I later asked Jen if there is a problem with bears in southern Maine, and she said there is not.

Gerry Lavigne, the long-time DIF&W deer biologist who now works for SAM, raised a concern over bear predation of moose and deer calves, and agreed that we need to kill more bears.

Tom Doak of the Maine Woodland Owners said he thought more private landowners would be willing to open their lands to bear hunters, with good management and answers to their questions and concerns (such as cleaning up bait sites). He said his group would be willing to help with this.

The Steering Committee had an interesting discussion of re-establishing a spring bear hunt. Lavigne strongly supported it, noting that “sows with cubs are not shot.” Lavigne, who smokes wild game meats, said there is a big demand for spring bears, and he gets a lot of meat to smoke from hunters who hunt in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Lavigne also noted that Maine’s Indian tribes host very successful spring bear hunts in our state. He also said spring hunts allow hunters to focus on large territorial boar bears with lots of 300+ pound bears being taken.

DIF&W’s top bear biologist, Randy Cross, said bears are more vulnerable in the spring – out in the fields in daylight, and this would be a very different hunt, with bait unnecessary. He predicted a much higher success rate than the rate achieved in fall hunts.

Nate Webb, who chairs these meetings, reported that he worked on bears in Canada for five years and found that their spring hunt was by far the best. He said that only 2% of the spring-killed bears were sows with cubs.

Kleiner questioned whether we’d really get many spring bear hunters – citing as evidence the decline in the number of turkey hunters in our state. I told the committee of a time I suggested that we re-establish a spring bear hunt, and the idea was opposed by the industry, where guides and sporting camps felt they would not get more hunters, but their expenses would increase in order to offer both spring and fall hunts.

Webb suggested that a spring hunt could be limited to areas where we need to reduce bear populations, and both Trahan and Kleiner said they could support that approach.

Some expressed concern about poor road conditions in some hunting areas in the spring, but Jen Vashon said they’d helped the Indian tribes deal with issues like that. It was noted that most bear/human interactions and problems occur in the spring.

 

Nate Webb did raise a concern about public opposition to a spring hunt. The Maine legislature ended spring hunts in the early 1980s, and they would be very likely to get involved if DIF&W tried to establish a new spring hunt. The Steering Committee voted to support a spring hunt, although they were divided on this.

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