Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Plan will guide bear management until 2023

A plan that will guide how black bears are managed in Utah for the next 12 years was approved on Jan. 4 by the Utah Wildlife Board.

The plan is available at . After clicking on , scroll down to the “Black bear management plan” subhead to find a link to the plan.

The following are among the plan’s highlights:

Currently, most bear hunters in Utah use hounds to track and tree bears. A few use archery equipment and hunt over bait. But starting in 2012, some areas of the state will become spot-and-stalk-only areas.

Hunters may not use hounds or bait during spot-and-stalk hunts.

Utah will have its first harvest-objective bear hunting areas starting in 2012. Having harvest-objective areas will allow biologists to focus more hunters on bears that are killing livestock and raiding campgrounds.

Currently, all of Utah’s bear hunting areas are limited-entry areas. Only those who draw a permit for a limited-entry area can hunt on it.

Under the new plan, some of the limited-entry areas will become harvest-objective areas. The number of hunters who can hunt on a harvest-objective area isn’t limited, so switching an area to harvest objective will increase the number of people who can hunt the area. Letting more hunters hunt an area increases the chance that a set number of bears are taken.

As soon as the set number of bears is taken (called the area’s quota), the hunt on the area will end for the season.

Archery hunters can still use bait. Using bait allows archery hunters to lure bears in close enough so they can make a clean and effective shot.

Currently, three factors are used to determine the health of Utah’s bear population—the percentage of females taken by hunters, the average age of the bears taken and the number of adult bears that survive from year to year.

You won’t find these three factors in the new plan. In their place, the key factors are:

The number of females and the number of adult males that hunters take. (An adult male bear is a bear that’s five years of age or older.)

Justin Dolling, game mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says the number of females and adult males that hunters take gives important information about how a bear population is doing. “The number of females is important because females give birth to and care for the cubs,” Dolling says. “But the number of adult males hunters take is the best early indicator we have about the health of a bear population.”

Dolling says hunters usually find adult males because adult males wander more than the other age groups. “You know a bear population is in decline if the number of adult males hunters take is going down and the number of females is going up,” he says.

Results from two important bear studies will also be used to determine the health of Utah’s bear population.

One study involves snagging hair from bears at sites across Utah and then using DNA tests to determine how often bears are visiting the research sites. This study is helping biologists determine the total number of bears in Utah. It’s also helping them measure the growth rate of the state’s bear population.

The second study involves visiting bear dens in the winter to see how many cubs are in the dens and to assess the health of the cubs and their mothers. This study is giving biologists important information about the number of bears that are coming into Utah’s population each year.

A 10-member group called the Utah Black Bear Advisory Committee compiled the new plan. The committee’s members are listed at the start of the plan.

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