State to reduce black bear population

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Black bear. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot/File)
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ALBANY—It could soon be open season on the state's black bear population.

The state's bear population once lived largely in the Adirondacks and Catskills, but have now spread to nearly every part of the state except Long Island and New York City. A new state plan would reduce the bear population by allowing more hunting and trapping of the animals, particularly in the Catskills. A separate bill proposed by State Senator Tom Libous and passed by the Senate, 56 to 4, on Monday would allow for rifle hunting of bears in the Southern Tier.

As bears and humans increasingly share the same habitat, bears have torn through garbage cans, entered homes and cars in search of food and consumed some pets. They've scoured for foods in the heart of some upstate cities, including Schenectady, and have visited suburban college campuses such as the University at Albany. They have also damaged farm crops.

Under a proposed plan, New York could become the second state in the nation where it is legal to trap a bear, after Maine. The new rules also would allow for the use of dogs and bait to attract bears during hunting, both of which are now illegal. The state will increase the hunting season in the Catskills to reduce the bear population there and allow for killing of females and bears younger than a year in other regions. State officials will also promote bear hunting as a cost-effective way to reduce the population.

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New York has an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 bears, about half of which live in the Adirondacks. Another third lives in the Catskills and the rest live in the central and western part of the state. The increase in bear population over the last twenty years has seen bears increasingly encroaching upon human habitat.

While hunting bear has long been a tradition in places like the Catskills, some environmentalists say increasing hunting everywhere could reduce the population too much.

Wes Gillingham, program director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, said problematic bears could be targeted and removed and farms could be given special licenses to kill animals that destroy their crops without allowing hunting on a larger scale. 

“Expanding the season and trying to reduce the population across the board does not make sense, we should be celebrating the return of the bear,” he said.

CLARIFICATION: The Department of Environmental Conservation is still considering its bear management proposal, and the final plan may or may not include allowing the use of traps and dogs to hunt bears. The potential benefits and drawbacks of those practices as part of an overall plan are still being assessed. New York would of course only become the second state in the nation where it is legal to trap a bear if that part of the proposed plan is approved.