The 2017 bear harvest and the tale it tells
Among its many responsibilities, PA Game Commission (PGC) is charged with managing wildlife within the state. Methods utilized by the PGC as well as other state agencies include population surveys and counts, trapping and radio tagging, habitat enhancement and even reintroduction of species into regions where low counts of the target species exist. The PGC’s “trap and transfer” of wild turkeys is a good example of that. Hunting is also used as a management tool; in PGC Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), where a given species has experienced population growth to the point at which the habitat is stressed, there are usually more opportunities for hunters to harvest that species. In WMAs where the same species shows low population or utilization of habitat, there may be more restrictive harvest opportunities. Hunting also provides scientists with valuable data regarding species of interest, and this is the case with the black bear.
The black bear season ended in PA last month with a total harvest of 3,383 bears state-wide; this is the combined sum of four different seasons. The regular (rifle) season was down somewhat, likely due to a wet opening day. Some WMAs had extended seasons based on population and other factors. Every bear harvested and tallied on the above count went to one of many PGC bear-check stations located throughout the state, and this is where the science comes into play. Once at the check station, each bear is weighed and its age determined (by examination of a small molar behind one of the canine teeth). The bear is examined for overall health and other tests may be deemed as necessary.
So, what does this science tell us? In 2017, the majority of bears encountered by hunters were between 150 and 200 pounds. A bear of this size averages one-and-a-half to two years old. From past research, it is known that a female black bear is fully grown at five years, and the average fully grown weight is 250 pounds. However, a male bear takes nine years to grow to full size, with an average weight of 500 pounds. There are exceptions to this rule; the largest male taken this year was 707 pounds in Monroe County, and I have seen a female bear with cubs just under 400 pounds.
Other methods are used to monitor and manage black bear as well. Telemetry is useful for tracking individual bears and aids the PGC in finding dens for breeding surveys. Ear tags aid in the identification and movement of individual bears. Any time a bear is trapped for research or relocation, in the case of chronic nuisance bears, the bear’s age is also determined. The check stations contribute a lot of information on bears. For more information visit www.pgcapps.pa.gov/Harvest/Bear.