ST. GEORGE — The Utah Wildlife Board approved a measure Thursday to increase the number of black bear permits to be issued to hunters for the 2018 season.
During a public meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah Division of Wildlife officials recommended the increase after explaining that the bear population is on a “healthy” upward trend throughout the state.
“The state’s bear population has been growing steadily since 1998,” Darren DeBloois, DWR game mammals coordinator, said, “especially in the southeastern part of the state.”
The division will issue 101 additional permits, increasing the total number of black bear tags to 859 to be issued in spring, summer and fall seasons. The DWR estimates this will result in a harvest of approximately 400 bears, given previous years’ trends of around a 50 percent success rate for hunters who claim a tag.
The number of bears in Utah has increased from an estimated minimum of 1,300 adult bears in 2000 to a minimum of just under 3,500 adult bears in 2016, according to the DWR. These estimates do not include cubs or bears under two years of age, so the overall population is estimated to be higher.
The DWR utilizes the hunting season as a means of population management. Part of established management plans include keeping the amount of female bears taken to between 30-45 percent of the total harvest, depending on location.
“The division manipulates black bear populations depending on conditions on the ground,” DeBloois said, noting that bears are showing up in some areas where they didn’t in previous years, such as regions throughout southeast Utah where an additional 73 tags will be issued this season.
In southwest Utah, an additional seven tags will be issued in areas such as the Panguitch Lake/Zion and Beaver units. The remaining 21 tags are dispersed through central and northern regions.
During a public comment period at the board meeting, several representatives from sportsman associations submitted a letter requesting that the board extend the length of designated hunting dates to allow for more bear-baiting and hounding.
Hunters who use dogs to sniff out bears and chase them up trees are limited to hunting during specific date ranges during summer and fall pursuit periods.
However, the date range-recommendations were established using scientific models by the DWR in the interest of female bears who are likely to be bearing or caring for cubs.
“The fall is a very vulnerable season for the females,” Allison Jones, director of the Wild Utah Project, said during the public comment. “By extending the season there in any hunting unit, I fear that we are going to be playing fast and loose with our bear population.”
Ultimately, the board rejected the sportsman associations’ request to extend the season and voted to implement the DWR’s original recommendations in regard to season dates and tag increases.
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