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Macon Telegraph: Black Bear Hunt Rules Shift Proposed in Middle Georgia

This article originally appeared in the Macon Telegraph on April 2, 2013:

By S. Heather Duncan

Georgia wildlife managers would move the Middle Georgia black bear hunt from November to December under proposed hunting rules for the next two years.

The open hunt would happen the second Saturday in December. In other respects, the controversial bear hunt would remain the same: an open season on private land in Houston, Twiggs and Bibb counties.

The first open season on the Middle Georgia black bear population was held two years ago, with an estimated 10 percent of the population being killed, almost all near Tarversville in Twiggs County. Half of the 34 bears killed were female. In 2012, with game managers aggressively enforcing hunting regulations, 14 bears were harvested. Both years, multiple bears were killed illegally, and 52 percent of those harvested were female.

“This level of harvest pressure on female bears was slightly greater than expected,” the state Department of Natural Resources indicated in its rationale for the changes.

Moving the date back is intended to reduce hunting pressure on female bears, who become less active later in the year as they approach denning season. The DNR indicated the change might increase cub births and survival success and said the change is “also responsive to public desires.”

During an earlier round of public comments, many commenters asked for using a quota system instead of holding an open hunt. A handful of hunters, on the other hand, wanted to expand the length of the hunt or the counties included.

John Trussell, a Houston County outdoors writer, praised the state’s decision to move the hunt to December but said that isn’t enough. He said a quota hunt, which would limit the number of bears killed and require hunters to register, would also reduce the illegal bear hunting over bait, which has been a problem. Trussell is founder of Save Oaky Woods, an organization that successfully lobbied for the state to purchase a portion of the popular Houston County Wildlife Management Area several years ago partly in order to protect the black bears.

“I would have preferred a quota hunt,” he said. “There’s no harm in being conservative until we have better information about the size of the population.”

A three-year study of Middle Georgia bears under way in Houston and Twiggs counties would provide a better population estimate, possibly as soon as early summer. But if the proposed hunting rules are approved by the DNR board in May, the results of the bear study -- which is being funded through both DNR and the Georgia Department of Transportation -- won’t be used in setting hunting regulations until 2015. The study is also examining cub survival rates and bear movement patterns, especially around Ga. 96.

Like the change to protect female bears, the DNR is also proposing to reduce the number of days that female deer can be harvested. The amount of doe hunting allowed will vary by region but will drop everywhere because the state has achieved deer population reductions it had sought, according to the DNR proposal. The explanation also noted that about 65 percent of the total deer harvest for the past three years has been female. The number of fawns that survive to six months in relation to the number of adult does in the population, has dropped by 26 percent.

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