State wildlife officials don’t necessarily want people to start hunting bears in cities and housing developments, but they do want them to have that option.
Division of Natural Resources administrators recently proposed a measure that would allow cities and homeowners’ associations to conduct special archery seasons for bears if they so desire.
Colin Carpenter, the DNR’s bear project leader, said such seasons could help reduce the number of bear-human conflicts in those areas.
“They’ll be targeting animals that are getting into trash cans, raiding bird feeders and causing other problems,” he explained.
Problems often occur, he added, in neighborhoods built on the edges of cities, where houses often are built on large lots in wooded areas.
“When you have dispersed housing like that, you basically have excellent bear habitat,” Carpenter said. “You have mast-producing trees, and you have a human element that provides another food source. When mast is abundant, the bears feed on that. When mast is scarce or when it runs out, bears start looking around houses for food. That’s when the problems occur.”
A recent DNR study tracked the movements of bears that live in Charleston, Beckley and Morgantown.
“The bears we put tracking collars on spent their lives within 3 to 5 miles of the city limits and often came inside the city limits,” Carpenter said. “They were resident animals.”
The study showed that some bears lived quite close to people’s houses, but never caused problems until natural foods disappeared.
“A lot of folks probably didn’t realize the bears were there,” Carpenter said.
He said another study, conducted in northeastern Pennsylvania, revealed that some bears were found startlingly close to houses. In one instance, biologists tracked a radio-collared bear to a den located under a backyard outbuilding.
That sort of proximity can have tragic consequences for the animals.
“Bears that live on the edges of urban environments often suffer higher mortality [than forest-dwelling bears],” Carpenter said. “Even though urban bears aren’t hunted, they get killed in collisions with vehicles and are often destroyed for nuisance behavior.”
He said that if the proposal to offer an urban bear-hunting season gets approved, some people might protest.
“I’m sure there will be some opposition,” he acknowledged. “Really, the problem of nuisance bears could be solved if people would eliminate the food sources they create.
“Since that’s not likely to happen, we want to give cities and homeowners’ associations that conduct urban deer hunts the option to conduct urban bear hunts as well.”
Carpenter said the hunts could be tailored to cities’ and associations’ specific needs.
“We don’t want people to think they have to have an urban bear season,” he added, “but we’re happy to give guidance to those who do.”
The proposal is currently being considered by members of the state Natural Resources Commission, and could be approved as early as the commission’s next meeting on May 3.