ALBANY, N.Y. – In response to a growing population of bears, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has expanded hunting zones to include 13 new areas in central and western New York this fall.
State DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis says the hunting boundaries were expanded because the black bear population has grown in number and range in recent years, and hunting is an important tool in managing bear population growth.
The current bear population in New York state is estimated at around 7,000, with about 2,000 of those in the southern half of the state and the rest in the Adirondacks, said Gordon Batcheller, a DEC wildlife biologist.
"When I started my career in western New York in 1981, black bears weren’t a significant presence," Batcheller said. "Now my colleagues in that area say dealing with black bears is a regular occurrence."
The DEC region that includes the six westernmost counties of the state reported 161 bear complaints last year, Batcheller said. Most involved bears raiding birdfeeders or garbage cans around homes, or cornfields or beehives on farms, he said.
Reports of bear problems in the state are down now, Batcheller said, because this summer’s weather has produced a bumper crop of nuts and berries and bears are less inclined to seek food in residential areas.
Attacks on humans by bears are almost unheard-of in New York state, Batcheller said, although there have been a number of them documented in other parts of the country. Most complaints involve bears looking for food.
"As we trace problems between people and bears, it invariably leads back to bears getting into food," Batcheller said. "If they find food, they’ll keep coming back until it’s gone. Then they learn that food is associated with human habitation, and they get into the habit of looking for it there."
In May, a 6-foot black bear that was roaming around the Syracuse suburb of Geddes was euthanized because it developed a habit of hanging around residential areas. In 2007, it had been captured and relocated after causing damage in the Seneca County village of Waterloo.
In August 2006, officers from the DEC shot and killed a 350-pound male black bear that had become aggressive toward campers in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks. The bear was accustomed to raiding the food supplies of backpackers in the heavily used Flowed Lands camping area.
In response to problems with bears habitually stealing hikers’ food, the DEC has since made it mandatory for High Peaks campers to carry food and garbage in bear-proof canisters or face fines.
To educate people about preventing bear problems, the DEC recently produced a DVD that has been distributed to libraries and schools throughout the state, Batcheller said.
"Our concern is really trying to emphasize that in black bear range, which is expanding to include more and more of New York state, food attracts bears," Batcheller said. "In some cases, people may be feeding bears and not even realize it, if they have birdfeeders or poorly kept compost bins."
Bowhunting season for bears in the Southern Zone of New York begins on Oct. 18 and regular bear season begins Nov. 22. In the Catskills, regular bear season starts Nov. 15.
In 2007, hunters killed 1,117 bears in New York, up from 796 in 2006.