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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Friday, January 18, 2013

West Virginia Black Bears have made a robust population climb over the past 60 years..........Bears that have been killed by hunters starting in ten-year periods: 2010 (2,392); 2000 (1,317); 1990 (235); 1980 (47); 1970 (38); 1960 (72); 1950 (32)..................The State has a December hunting season which allows the earliest hibernating bears to get out of harms way----helping offset hunter kill rates which this December 2011 hit a new high of 2683................There are an estimated 10,000 bears in West Virginia so Game Officials are right about at the tipping point(27% of the population) of how many more bears can be killed annually before a population slide would commence

Record number of black bears killed in WV
CHARLESTON (AP) — West Virginia hunters killed a record number of black bears last year during the archery and firearms seasons.
The Division of Natural Resources says the 2,683 black bears killed represented a 34 percent increase from 2011. It's also 12 percent higher than the previous record set in 2010.
The DNR says the numbers were buoyed by an abundant mast supply, an additional two weeks of archery hunting and multiple counties being open for a September firearms hunt.

State’s black bear population is mind-boggling
By Kenneth Cobb
In last week's column, I reported that the bear hunters took a record number of black bears statewide in 2010 (2,392).
This is somewhat mind-boggling considering what the West Virginia bear harvest was 30 years ago. In 1980, the total bear harvest was only 47.
It was 1954 when I read the hunting regulations for the first time. The counties open for black bear gun hunting were those in the eastern part of the state, which included Randolph.
I asked my father if bear hunting was dangerous. Dad, who had never been bear hunting, was quick to say "the black bears we have are really very shy and timid".
He also told me that his uncle had hunted them a few times. About a year before my great uncle's death, I asked him about his bear hunting trips.
He told me that he never got one, but he was with hunting parties who did manage to get one or two in Pocahontas County.
Black bears were somewhat numerous in Virginia in the early 1700s in what is now West Virginia. This was at the time of the early settlement of the white man.
During this period of the early 18th century, black bears were killed in large numbers in the Ohio, Kanawha, and Little Kanawha River Valleys.
In the early 1900s, the black bear was considered a varmint or non-game animal, and no harvest records were kept. It was in the 1930s a serious effort was made to keep the bears from being slaughtered in large numbers.
About 1935, the black bear was officially made a game animal, and a hunting season was established. Further efforts to manage the black bear were made after World War II with additional success.
In 1967, a bear sanctuary was created in the cranberry country located on the corners of Greenbrier, Pocahontas, and Webster Counties.
A second sanctuary of 39,000 acres was created in 1971 near Spruce Knob on the Randolph-Pendleton county line. For several years, bear hunting was prohibited in these locations.
Today, both of these areas are open for bear hunting.
Additional changes were made in the hunting season starting in 1979. This change has probably reversed the decline in black bear numbers.
The traditional bear gun season is now in December. With this setup, the earlier hibernating bears are protected.
Today, black bear sightings are being reported in just about all counties in West Virginia.
Large increases are being observed in the southern part of the state.
In the mid 1980s, a bear was sported swimming across the Kanawha River practically in downtown Charleston.
About two or three years ago, another bear was reported on Washington Street on Charleston's West Side.
With the large increases in the bear populations, some bears have become a nuisance.
These are the ones that damage or destroy property, attack livestock and become aggressive around people in public locations. Most of these nuisance bears are captured by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources.
First-time offenders are ear-tagged with an orange tag with a number for easy identification and then released close to the capture site.
A second offense involves relocation to a more remote area, usually about 50 miles from the second capture site. A third capture usually means that the animal has to be destroyed.
This is essentially a "three strikes, you're out" program.
Black bears do have a tendency to travel. In June, 1999, a nuisance bear was captured near Ramsey in Fayette County.
The bear was ear-tagged and given an implant radio. It was tracked during the fall to near Carnifex Ferry State Park where it hibernated.
Contact was lost until the bear was killed by a hunter in 2000 near Norton in Randolph County. This bear never caused any further problems after his capture.
Now, let's take a brief look at the bears that have been checked in by hunters for the past 60 years, starting in ten-year periods: 2010 (2,392); 2000 (1,317); 1990 (235); 1980 (47); 1970 (38); 1960 (72); 1950 (32).
In 2011, a bear hunter can take two bears in a calendar year as long as one is taken in Boone, Fayette, Kanawha, Logan, McDowell, Raleigh or Wyoming Counties.
I never thought that I would ever see the day when the black bear numbers would increase to where the DNR would permit this.
I would like to thank WVDNR game biologist, Steve Wilson, for providing the information to make this week's column possible.

West Virginia's Black Bear

Photographs by ARNOUT HYDE JR.
Twenty years ago, seeing a bear in West Virginia was a lofty ambition a dream come true for a wildlife watcher. In 1980, Mountain State hunters killed only 47 bears. Tom Dotson, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) district wildlife biologist for the state's southwestern counties, estimates that fewer than 500 black bear roamed the state back then.

Today, however, the state's black bear population has grown to nearly 10,000. In 1999, the legal harvest dipped to 994 from a record 1,082 kills in 1998. 

Just a few years ago, bears were considered restricted to the eastern mountainous areas of the state. But black bears have proven to be accomplished wanderers. Significant populations now occupy southern and southwestern West Virginia, and a major DNR study of these bears is under way. Bears also seem to show up in new places every year. I know of several reliable sightings in Marshall County over the past three years. I suspect it's just a matter of time until I spot one on my piece of heaven.

Even though black bears can cause problems for people, I look forward to the day they roam my ridge, simply because they are such fascinating creatures. Though adults typically weigh 200 to 400 pounds, 600-pounders are possible, especially when food is abundant.

The success of black bears in West Virginia can be attributed primarily to habitat quality. Oak-hickory forests that produce lots of nuts make big bears. Though commonly thought to be ferocious meat eaters, black bears are surprisingly omnivorous. In fact, they are more herbivore than carnivore. Forest mast (nuts, fruits, and berries), seeds, and roots make up as much as 75 percent of their menu. Carrion, chipmunks, mice, birds' eggs, fish, frogs, and insects make up the balance. Nuts, primarily acorns, are the key food. When mast production is high, bears can fatten up and easily get through even harsh winters. Poor mast years, however, can affect both winter survival and reproduction.

Bear hunters rely on reports of fall mast crops to determine hunting strategy. When the nut crop is good, bears stay active longer, eat more, and den later, so the late fall gun season is usually more productive than the early fall bow season. When the mast crop is poor, bears scatter in search of food, eat less, and den earlier. During poor mast years, the early bow season is usually more successful than the later gun season.

Though the bear's period of winter dormancy (bears are not true hibernators) seems a time of inactivity, it is then that sows activate their pregnancies. Black bears breed every other year in June or July, but after a few cell divisions, the fertilized eggs stop growing and do not implant on the uterine wall. When winter dormancy begins, the tiny embryos implant on the uterus and development resumes. Two or three tiny cubs about the size of guinea pigs (seven to 12 ounces) are born in January. The cubs nurse and grow for about eight weeks while the sow continues her winter's sleep. In March or April, they venture outside the den with the sow. Cubs wean in the fall. Some den the first winter with their mother; others den singly nearby. If they survive the winter, they're on their own.

More fascinating than the black bear reproductive strategy of delayed implantation is the physiology of winter dormancy. During the winter months, while females are pregnant, bears do not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate. How they cope with the accumulation of internal toxic wastes has serious implications for human health; research continues to unlock these physiological secrets.

Though bear metabolism drops 50 to 60 percent during dormancy and heart rate can drop to single digits per minute, body temperature drops minimally. In fact, brain and core body temperatures stay near normal. This is why bears are not considered true hibernators. They are easily aroused and react quickly to disturbances, such as intruders or potential predators. It is for this reason that bear biologists such as Dotson and Joe Rieffenberger, who led the state's bear research program for many years, use tranquilizer guns to study bears at their den sites.

Though a bear den may conjure up images of a deep rocky cave, den sites include large hollow trees, a scrape under a brush pile, a shallow burrow, and the space beneath a hunting cabin porch. Some bears even sleep above ground in a thicket or in the open.

Black bears are magnificent and powerful creatures. Respect them. We may "own" the woods, but bears rule them. Reduce the chance of conflict by using common sense to avoid close encounters of the bear kind.

Dr. Scott Shalaway is a certified wildlife biologist and freelance writer whose syndicated nature column appears in newspapers around the state. 

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