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Fewer bears means fewer hunters this year

Minnesota’s bear hunting season opened last weekend, and fewer hunters will be in the woods this fall.

In an effort to gradually increase the state’s bear population, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has reduced the number of bear licenses in quota zones by about 35 percent this fall.

The state’s bear population was estimated at 25,000 in 2002, according to Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist in Grand Rapids, Minn. Since then, it has declined about 30 percent. The current estimate of the bear population is 12,000 to 15,000, Stark said.

“The population in the last few years has appeared to be stable,” he said. “But last year we took more bears than we expected. We’d like to see a more positive increase in the population trend.”

Last year, 6,000 bear licenses were available, and this year 3,750 licenses are available. Despite reducing the number of licenses last year by 15 percent over the previous year, the bear harvest still rose 22 percent. The increase in harvest was attributed to a scarcity of natural foods, which drove bears more readily to hunters’ baits.

The DNR isn’t concerned about the bear population, Stark said. But the age structure of the population has changed, he said.

“The bear population isn’t as productive as it was in the late ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said. “That prime age class of breeding females is lower than it was, so the population has less potential to increase.”

Dennis Udovich of Greaney, Minn., president of the Minnesota Bear Hunting Guides Association, said most guides support the reduction in permits this fall.

But guides will have fewer customers this fall, and fewer resident hunters will receive licenses.

“A lot of the guys who are in the business took a pretty good hit,” Udovich said. “We’re down half. But with all of the food in the woods, that might work out OK.”

Hunters — and bear guides — depend on bears visiting baits to draw them near enough to shoot. With plenty of chokecherries, raspberries, blueberries and other natural foods, fewer bears might come to baits, Udovich said.

A couple of changes have been made for this fall’s hunt:

  • Telephone and online registrations will be permitted this year, in addition to in-person registration. Hunters who choose to register by phone or online also must go to a registration station to pick up an envelope in which to place a tooth from the bear they kill.
  • In the state’s no-quota bear zone, where licenses can be purchased over the counter, the limit has been reduced from two to one. A large chunk of northwest Minnesota is included in the no-quota zone.

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