REGIONAL— Despite an intense drought that sharply limited natural bear foods this year, bear registrations are running below last year’s pace through the first two weeks of the season. …
REGIONAL— Despite an intense drought that sharply limited natural bear foods this year, bear registrations are running below last year’s pace through the first two weeks of the season. Poor food years traditionally give the advantage to hunters, since bears tend to be more responsive to baiting, but that hasn’t translated into the kind of success that hunters experienced last year, which was another poor year for most bear foods.
Through the first two weeks of the 2021 season, hunters have registered 2,299 bears, compared to 2,630 bears at this same point last year. That’s a drop of 13 percent.
While hunters still have nearly a month to catch up, about 80 percent of the bear harvest typically takes place in the first two weeks of the season, according to the DNR. Based on that, the final harvest tally should finish up around 2,900 registrations, according to the DNR’s Lisa Sanderson. That would be down slightly from the 3,203 bears registered in 2020.
While down over last year, the 2021 harvest is still likely to end up higher than in most recent years. Last year saw the highest number of bear registrations in more than a decade and this year, if the trend holds, will likely tip the scales at the second highest in more than a decade.
This year’s relatively high harvest will likely forestall any significant recovery in the bear population, now estimated by the DNR at 10,000-12,000 animals. That’s less than half the population estimates from the early 2000s and reflects the impact of several very high harvest years in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which substantially reduced bear numbers in the state.
The DNR has significantly reduced bear permits in recent years, to allow for some population recovery, but hunter success rates have been climbing steadily in recent years, limiting the effects of lower permit numbers.
Back-to-back poor food years haven’t helped the bear population either, in part because it tends to make female bears more likely to visit hunters’ baits. So far this year, females have made up 45 percent of the harvest, a substantially higher percentage than is typical in an average food year. In bear zone 25, which encompasses most of northern St. Louis and eastern Koochiching counties, females have comprised fully 52 percent of the bear registrations. Tower area DNR wildlife manager Tom Rusch has repeatedly said that the loss of such high numbers of female bears hampers recovery efforts.
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