ST. LOUIS – There’s been an increase in black bear sightings in the St. Louis metro area as their population in Missouri continues to climb.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is beginning a brand-new black bear hunting program and offered a virtual program on black bear hunting basics Thursday night.
Black bears are becoming more common and widespread across the southern half of Missouri and that’s why the Missouri Department of Conservation determined the state’s bear population can sustain a limited and highly regulated harvest.
“So our bear population has been growing steadily over many, many decades. We have good survival and high reproduction so right now it’s estimated at about 800 bears in the state and growing at about 9% annually so with that growth rate we’d expect it to double in about a decade,” said Laura Conlee, furbearer and black bear biologist.
The season will be short. At maximum just 10 days long beginning Oct. 18. Hunters had to apply and 400 bear tags were drawn randomly.
“So we initiated this first hunting season in the state of Missouri to provide opportunity. The bear population reached levels where it can sustain that kind of harvest. And so we offered this very limited and highly regulated opportunity,” Conlee said.
Three bear management zones were formed with harvest quotas of 20, 15, and five bears.
Prior to hunting, each day hunters will call a hotline to see if the quota has been met. If so, the season is closed for that zone.
“So we set a harvest quota for each of our bear management zones and when we set those quotas we looked at hunter effort and opportunity and we also looked at population levels and things like that. so these conservative harvest quotas basically allow for hunter opportunity while maintaining population growth,” Conlee said.
Each hunter is only allowed a harvest of one bear and the rules are stricter.
“So bears, we took a conservative approach looking at the regulations associated with it. Hunters are not allowed to use bait or dogs for bear hunting. They are only allowed to shoot lone bears,” Conlee said.
“A female who has yearlings with her would not be eligible for harvest and some of our bears may have entered a den during the time of our hunting season so hunters are also not allowed to harvest a bear that has taken refuge in a den.”
All these regulations allow Missourians to participate in the sustainable harvest of a valuable natural resource but also allows the bear population to continue to grow.
“We do have a 10-year black bear management plan. So within that black bear management plan, we will be looking at establishing population benchmarks and hunting will serve as a primary management tool to achieve those benchmarks,” Conlee said.
“But with this first season, it was really about providing opportunity because the population had reached levels where it could sustain that.”