Over the past 30 years, black bear populations in North Carolina have increased fivefold. We talk about new hunting policies in place to help stabilize their numbers.
According to NC’s Wildlife Resources Commission, Eastern North Carolina’s black bear population has made a comeback. Today, the population sits at just over 10,000, compared to the paltry 2,000 three decades ago.
“The increase in the bear population has been occurring since the early 1980’s.”
Black bear biologist Colleen Olfenbuttel says the increase stems from both a planned effort on the part of Wildlife Resource Commission and favorable conditions in Eastern North Carolina.
“We created designated bear sanctuaries; that allowed those bears to reproduce, those populations to grow, and then the surplus bears would leave the sanctuaries and repopulate the surrounding area.”
In 1971, 28 bear sanctuaries were created, encompassing nearly 800,000 acres. Protecting these areas where breeding female bears reproduce has been instrumental in the recovery of the bear population in the state. Olfenbuttle says another contributing factor is the amount of farmland here.
“there’s just an abundance of food in Eastern North Carolina. Not only natural food for the bears, but a lot agricultural food, such as corn, soy, wheat…”
Black bears are found mostly at the coast and in the mountain region of North Carolina. They are six feet in length, and adults can weigh upwards of 300 lbs. The current world record black bear, from Craven County weighed in at 880 lbs. Now that the black bear populations have returned to a healthy level, the Wildlife Resources Commission is hopping to sustain that growth.
“We feel like we’ve successfully restored bear populations in eastern North Carolina from historic lows, which occurred during especially during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. And so now that we’ve restored the populations, the management goal for that population is to stabilize it, basically try to have it where we have a sustainable harvest in eastern North Carolina, and also a stable bear population.”
In most cases, that means loosening regulations on bear hunting, which is considered to be the best way to control their populations. Despite outcry from animal advocates, policies for bear baiting, a hunting practice using food to lure bears, are changing. Wildlife Officer Sergeant William Cane says hunters can use only non-processed foods, like peaches, apples, and meat scraps.
“This season, it will be legal to bait bear by people still hunting, but it has to be done the first week of the season. And it cannot be anything that’s processed, it can only be natural food products.”
Bear season in eastern North Carolina will remain the same this year, from November 10th to the 15th and from December 15th to December 25th. Cane says hunters still won’t be able to bait bear in sanctuaries. Perhaps the biggest change for this year’s bear hunting season is that hunters are now required to purchase a bear e-stamp.
“Right now, we don’t know how many people are actually hunting bear. Because prior to this year, unless you were coming from out of state, you had to buy a special license to hunt bear. This year, everyone is going to have to buy the e-stamp and that just gives us an actual number of people that are bear hunting.”
Sergeant Cane says hunters can purchase a $10 bear e-stamp from the same place they buy their hunting license. They’re also available online at ncwildlife.org. Cane says this season will be the first time bear hunting is allowed in the Piedmont region.
“and the reason for that was that the bears population is expanding into areas where normally bears didn’t live, so we’re trying to manage those bears and trying to keep them in the areas that is their original habitat.”
The bear hunting regulation changes were approved in February and they took effect August 1st.