Special Report filed by AAF Animal Attack Files Special Report
from The Salt Lake Tribune

      State Wildlife Board Approves Limited Spring Bear Hunt

Thursday, October 12, 2000


The Utah Wildlife Board on Wednesday unanimously endorsed a spring bear hunt starting in April 2001.

The hunt will be considered experimental, meaning it will be staged in limited areas and will last from four to six years. After that, its future will be evaluated.

Details of the black bear hunt will be made public in late November. It probably will take place on between four and six of Utah's 22 bear management units. Hunters will be able to use hounds and bait in some areas.

It will mark the first time since 1992 that Utah hunters can legally pursue bears during the spring. Back then, pressure from wildlife groups swayed the board to limit bear hunting to the fall. The groups argued that the spring hunt orphans newborn cubs when mothers are killed.

Bear hunters since have campaigned to reinstate the hunt. Brigham Young University biologist Hal Black argued Wednesday that there is no scientific justification for not having a spring bear hunt. And Don Peay, director of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said banning spring bear hunting to save female bears has been a failure.

He said that since Utah closed its spring bear hunt, the harvest of females has increased by 52 percent and there has been a 49 percent increase in the number of bears killed by government wildlife agents because the animals were killing domestic livestock.

"We told you in 1993 that if you did away with the spring bear hunt you would increase the number of females killed and depredation," said Byron Bateman, a northern Utah hunter. Because male bears emerge from hibernation earlier than females, supporters say a well-timed hunt would target males and protect females and their young.

Spring hunt proponents also argued that hunters who use bait and hounds have a better chance at telling the sex of a bear and can avoid killing females with young.

Those opposed to the spring hunt cited a 1999 survey conducted for the Division of Wildlife Resources showing general public disapproval of bear hunting, baiting and hounding. That drew a retort from hunter John Bair.

"Using public opinion polls is a slap in the face to biologists," he said. "There is no biological reason to not have a spring hunt."

Nonhunters question the wisdom of starting the hunt next spring after a year when drought has deprived many bears of food. The situation is particularly dire in the Book Cliffs region of eastern Utah, a possible place for a spring bear hunt.

"I cannot fathom why the Wildlife Board would even consider a spring hunt or adding hunting units after the tough year the bears have had," Moab resident Katie Juenger wrote in a letter to the board. "Some may not even make it through the winter, and there is no justification for adding to the stress they will face in the spring."

The board received letters opposing the hunt from all over the United States.

"Spring is a critical time for all bears," wrote Renee Snyder of Salt Lake City. "By the time bears emerge from their winter den, they have expended most of their energy reserves and must begin extensive foraging. The disruption of their foraging behavior, as well as the energy spent avoiding hunters, can negatively impact a bear's ability to survive."

In approving an experimental hunt in 2001 with details to be worked out at a later date, the Wildlife Board said the objective of the spring hunts would be to see whether: the number of male bears killed increased; the hunts helped reduce livestock depredation; cub survival was helped by spring hunting; and the harvest of female bears declined.

The board, which met at the Department of Natural Resources building in Salt Lake City, also approved a long-term bear management plan that was the work of a black bear discussion group that included biologists, hunters and nonhunters.

The plan's main objective is to maintain a healthy bear population in existing habitat and expand distribution while considering human safety, economic concerns and other wildlife species.

© Copyright 2000, The Salt Lake Tribune

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