Board approves record number of bear permits

Paul A. Smith
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Natural Resources Board on Wednesday approved a record 12,850 black bear kill permits for the 2017 Wisconsin hunting season.

The Natural Resources Board on Wednesday approved a record 12,850 black bear kill permits for the 2017 Wisconsin hunting season.

The number of permits represents an 11.5 percent increase from 2016, a year that resulted in the second highest bear harvest in state history, and reflects state wildlife officials efforts to manage Wisconsin’s large, healthy bear population.

“This action will help us continue to work toward bear population goals and continue to provide an increase in high-quality bear hunting opportunities in the state,” said David Mac-Farland, large carnivore specialist for the Department of Natural Resources.

Wisconsin is perennially among the top states in bear kill.

Prior to the 2016 hunting season, the DNR estimated the state’s bear population at 28,900, the highest since estimates have been conducted.

Bears are managed in four zones in Wisconsin.

The department’s bear management strategy has been consistent for the last several years, MacFarland said. The agency’s goals have been to maintain populations at stable levels in Zones A, B and C and decrease the population in D.

The DNR uses a bear population model to set zone-specific kill quotas. The model produces forecasts according to inputs of various harvest levels, current population estimates and bear population goals.

Historical hunter success rates in the zones are used to recommend permit levels.

The 2017 bear permits and kill quotas approved by the board are, respectively: 1,925 and 1,200 in Zone A; 1,275 and 900 in Zone B; 7,050 and 1,300 in Zone C; and 2,600 and 1,600 in Zone D.

The permit levels were increased for 2017 in each zone. The kill goals were increased by 200 in Zone A and 50 in Zone B and held level in the other zones.

If the quotas are reached, the kill of 5,000 bears would be second highest in state history.

The last eight years have produced the eight highest bear harvests in state history. The bear kills were 4,009 in 2009, 5,133 in 2010, 4,257 in 2011, 4,646 in 2012, 3,952 in 2013, 4,279 in 2014, 4,198 in 2015 and 4,693 in 2016.

The 2016 number is updated from a preliminary kill of 4,643 reported by the DNR in October.

Last year’s bear kill came just short of the 4,750 quota set by the agency.

Based on authorized permits levels, hunters had a 39 percent success rate statewide in 2016.

Bear hunting in Wisconsin continues to draw high interest. For the 2016 season, a record 109,221 applications were received for permits. The agency did not present information on the number of applications received for 2017; the deadline was Dec. 10.

The minimum number of years to draw a Wisconsin bear permit is 10 years in Zone B, 7 in A, 6 in D and 1 in C.

MacFarland said bears continue to disperse through Zone C (roughly the southern 80 percent of Wisconsin) and conflicts between humans and bears are increasing in that area.

Among wildlife species, bears are second to white-tailed deer in the amount of crop damage caused in Wisconsin.

The DNR is working to update its bear management plan, MacFarland said; a draft may be available in 2018.