Department of Natural Resources (DNR) big game section chief Bob Nack talked with the Natural Resources Board (NRN) last week regarding quotas for the 2020 bear season. Hunter interest in bear hunting has been strong in the state. Wisconsin is a destination for bear hunting for many, with over 120,000 applications for permits received by the department every year.
Bear harvest in the state, he said, is an additive harvest, meaning those bear are not likely to die in another way. With that said, and the low growth rates of the species, with females only breeding every other year, the state takes a close look at the current populations and other metrics before setting harvest goals.
To set harvest quotas, the department goes through a process which includes an annual meeting of the Bear Advisory Committee. That committee is made up of department members as well members of 11 other partners. From there, with input from all groups taken into account, he said, population objectives are determined using a variety of metrics. Those metrics include bear population estimates, agricultural damage, nuisance complaints, hunter satisfaction and hunter success.
Permits given take into account an average of the last three years of hunter success. In Zone A and B, populations have been decreasing slightly, so the objective would be to maintain or see a slight increase in the number of bear. For that reason, the quota has been dropped down a bit for the 2020 season. In Zone A, the quota was 900 in 2019, and is 800 in 2020. This means 1,410 permits will be issued, based on the average hunter success in the past three years. In Zone B, where 785 was the quota last year, this year’s number if 650, with 1,100 permits available. Zone C’s quota number was bumped up from 850 to 900, meaning 6,570 hunters will have the chance to harvest a bear in 2020. Zone D’s quota fell also, from 1,300 last year to 1,200 this year. This allows for 2,300 permits in Zone D.
Nack was asked how agricultural damage would be handled, for instance in the “hot spots” in Sawyer and Rusk counties. He stated those would be better addressed with the new zones in the new management plan. He also said last year 52 additional bear trap monitors were places on the landscape and 13 farms had abatement plans put into place.
Board member Terry Hilgenberg said he had an issue with the quota number for Zone B and, eventually in the proceeding, made a motion to change that number. He felt the proposal did not track with the objective. Last year, he said, although the quota was 785, in fact only 658 animals were taken from that zone. He said hunters in the zone feel a healthy bear population is having a detrimental effect on deer populations in that area and last year’s harvest did not meet the goal. He felt, with that in mind, that the number should be higher this year, allowing for more permits. He did agree that limiting the number of bears as predators was not a silver bullet.
“We can’t do anything about the wolves today,” he said to the other board members, “but we can do something about at least maintaining the status with bear.”
While the objective was to maintain the bear numbers last year, he said, hunters harvested substantially less than the quota.
Nack said Zone B had the highest success rate of all of the zones, at 56%. He also mentioned a disproportionate number of females being harvested in that zone. For those reasons, the department set the quota where they did.
Chairman Dr. Fred Prehn spoke about the new way the board and the department would be looking at wildlife management. Rather than looking at each species alone, their would be a broader look at interactions. Higher levels of prey species, he said, would accommodate higher levels of prey species on the landscape. Proper habitat, too, could help prey species numbers.
In the end, Hilgenberg’s motion to increase the quota to 750 in Zone B did pass, with two votes against the motion.
Nack said the bear application period would be delayed for the 2021 season, however, due to changes in zone boundaries with the new management plan. It could be June, he said, before those applications would be accepted. The legislative process must be complete, he said, before applications for that season could open. All patrons will be notified, he said, when that application season would be opening. The Dec. 10, 2020 deadline, Nack told the board, would still stand.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected].