A change in West Virginia’s bear-hunting regulations will open thousands of acres of prime bear habitat to hunters — provided they draw permits that allow them to hunt there.
Division of Natural Resources officials have started taking applications for this year’s “buck-bear” permit lottery. Bear hunters who draw the permits will be allowed to hunt in 17 bear-rich counties during the state’s firearm season for buck deer.
Last year, the first for the bear-buck option in those counties, the permits could be used to hunt only on private lands. This year, the permits can be used on public lands as well.
“That means they can be used on national forest lands in all those counties,” said Paul Johansen, the DNR’s assistant wildlife chief. We’re talking about tens of thousands of acres and a lot of really good bear habitat.”
The 17 counties include Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Grant, Greenbrier, Hardy, Lewis, Mercer, Monroe, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Upshur, and Webster.
Of those, Greenbrier, Hardy, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Randolph, Summers, Tucker and Webster contain significant portions of the Monongahela, George Washington and Jefferson national forests.
DNR officials decided to offer the buck-bear option on public lands after last year’s private-land-only hunt failed to appreciably reduce bear overpopulation problems in the targeted counties.
“These counties are above their management objectives and need additional bears harvested to achieve their goal,” said Colin Carpenter, the DNR’s bear project leader.
The agency’s administrators believe expanding the hunt to public lands will help them bring bear populations down to acceptable levels.
“I think we’ve expanded it to where it needs to be,” said Johansen. “If the season goes well, it will probably get us closer our objectives.”
He said he also believes that hunters will embrace this year’s opportunity more enthusiastically than they did last year’s.
“Last year marked a new type of season,” he explained. “As astute as our hunters are — and believe me, they are very astute — it often takes a year or two for them to adjust to a new season framework. I think we’ll have plenty of applicants for this year’s hunt.”
Sportsmen interested in drawing permits must fill out an application and mail it to the DNR by Aug. 18.
Applications are available in the Hunting section of the DNR’s website, www.wvdnr.gov. According to an agency news release, printed applications should be available soon at hunting-license agents, DNR district offices, the DNR Elkins Operations Center and the DNR main office in South Charleston.
The permits are good for specific counties and are not transferable. The permits themselves are free, but hunters who use them must purchase $10 Class DS bear damage stamps for their hunting licenses.
Completed applications should be mailed to: Application Section, WVDNR, P.O. Box 67, Elkins, WV 26241-0067. Only applications received by close of business on Aug. 18 will be eligible.