The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

February 15, 2009

West Virginia bears migrating to western counties

CHARLESTON — Hunting has slowed black bear population growth in West Virginia’s southern and eastern counties, but wildlife officials aren’t sure it can affect the animals’ expansion toward the Ohio River.

“Slowly but surely, bears are becoming more abundant in the western counties,” said Curtis Taylor, wildlife chief for the state Division of Natural Resources. “As populations reach capacity in the East and South, bears are migrating out of those areas into the more lightly populated counties in the West.

“Any time you get animals migrating into areas they haven’t historically inhabited, you generally see their numbers expand dramatically. We think that’s going to happen in the western counties sometime in the foreseeable future.”

DNR officials eventually turned the tide by establishing longer bear-hunting seasons with more liberal bag limits.

“We were getting a lot of nuisance complaints, and we knew with the reproductive capacity the bears in those areas have that the situation wasn’t going to get better,” Taylor said. “The time had come to stabilize the bear population, so we created liberal hunting regulations and explained to the hunting public why it was important for them to take advantage of those seasons.”

Last September marked a milestone in the state’s bear management efforts. DNR officials asked for, and were granted, a nine-day firearm season that started well before female bears had the chance to begin hibernation. Hunters killed 670 bears during the hunt.

“The September season allowed us to cull some bears that wouldn’t have been killed during the normal December firearm season. (Food) conditions weren’t exactly great in many areas of the state, and we’re pretty sure a lot of those bears would have gone into hibernation before the December season got started,” Taylor said.

Three other early seasons - a mid-October to mid-November archery season, an early November gun season and a gun season that coincided with the late-November buck deer season - contributed to a record-setting bear harvest of 2,064 bruins. Taylor said he’s confident that the hunts helped to curtail population growth in the eastern and southern counties, but he’s not at all sure that success will translate to the western counties after bears become abundant there.

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