Bear population keeps growing in the state

HARRISBURG — One of these years, Pennsylvania is going to break the 4,000-bear barrier for a third time in annual black bear harvests.

There was hope it would in 2018 with a bear population estimated at 20,000 and a fine start to the November firearms season. But unfavorable weather conditions dashed those hopes.

The 2018 bear harvest came in at 3,153 bears, 11th-best all-time, but also the lowest bear harvest in the past 11 years.

“I thought Pennsylvania was capable of producing a 4,000-bear harvest the past two years,” explained Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist. “But we’ve had some bad breaks with weather events during our bear seasons the past two years.

“With better hunting conditions, I do believe hunters would have taken another 1,000 bears in each of the past two seasons,” he said.

A season-by-season breakdown shows hunters took 2,017 bears (1,862 in 2017) in the general firearms season, 699 (1,083) in the extended season, 424 (493) in the archery season, and 12 in the early season.

A rainy bear firearms opener hamstrung the 2017 harvest by hundreds of bears. The same thing happened on the 2018 extended bear season opener, which also is the opening day of firearms deer season.

Opening-day harvests are typically responsible for 50 to 60 percent of the bear harvest during that particular season segment. When weather interferes, the season’s take suffers.

Seventy bears weighing 500 pounds or more, including 20 weighing 600 pounds or more, were part of the 2018 harvest.

Bears were taken in 60 counties and 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 Wildlife Management Units.

Even with new bear-hunting opportunities — including an earlier bear archery season that overlapped with a week of the archery deer season and expanded extended bear seasons — the bear harvest failed to reach management objectives.

That unfulfilled harvest potential has generated interest to further increase bear-hunting opportunities. Proposals to expand the mid-October muzzleloader and special firearms deer seasons to include bears statewide; increase to two weeks the length of the statewide archery bear season and shifting it to the two weeks following the muzzleloader and special firearms bear seasons; and expanding four-day extended bear seasons to six days in most WMUs in the 2019-20 bears seasons could be adopted at the April Board of Game Commissioners meeting.

Pennsylvania’s all-time bear harvest high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested. Hunters harvested 4,164 in 2005. All other bear harvests have been under 4,000.

While the 2018 harvest was down compared to 2017’s harvest of 3,438, harvest totals increased within the Game Commission’s Northcentral and Northeast regions.

The largest bear harvested in 2018 weighed an estimated 780 pounds. It was taken with a rifle in Howe Township, Forest County, on the second day of the general bear season in WMU 2F by Michael J. Rubeo, of Mercer.

A day later, a 708-pound male was taken by Timothy J. Weaver, of Dallas, Pa., with a rifle in Harvey’s Lake Borough, Luzerne County.

Other large bears taken during the state’s slate of bear seasons — all but one taken with a rifle — include: a 704-pound male taken Nov. 17 in Goshen Township, Clearfield County, by Mickey L. Moore, of Clearfield; a 697-pound male taken Nov. 19 in Chapman Township, Clinton County, by Scott Yorty, of Bloomsburg; a 688-pound male taken in the extended season in Stroud Township, Monroe County, by Phillip R. Counterman, of East Stroudsburg; a 681-pounder taken Nov. 17 in Coal Township, Northumberland County, by Robert L. Britton III, of Coal Township; a 680-pounder taken Nov. 19 in Chest Township, Clearfield County, by Douglas D. Routch, of Curwensville; a 679-pound male taken with a handgun Nov. 17 in Farmington Township, Warren County, by Jordan Tutmaher, of Warren; a 666-pound male taken Nov. 20 in Snyder Township, Jefferson County, by Earl F. Timothy, of Brockway; and a 627-pound male taken Nov. 19 in Snyder Township, Jefferson County, by Wayne C. Kline, of Reynoldsville.

The final count in the Southcentral area included Huntingdon, 142 (91); Bedford, 80 (57); Fulton, 58 (29); Blair, 44 (27); Juniata, 34 (41); Perry, 31 (44); Mifflin, 29 (43); Franklin, 26 (24); Cumberland, 12 (8); Adams, 7 (6); Snyder, 7 (13); and York, 4 (0).