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Draft Fish and Game 10-year plan calls for reduction in bear population

Last modified: 4/23/2015 5:16:31 PM
New Hampshire’s black bear population is at a record level, according to the state Fish and Game Department.

The state is home to an estimated 5,700 black bears. In its proposed 10-year management plan, Fish and Game says it wants that number to be closer to 4,700. Specifically, its wants fewer bears in the management unit that includes the Lakes Region, where population growth has led to more interactions between humans and bears.

To reach this goal, the state could lengthen seasons for baiting, still hunting and hunting with hounds.

Chocolate, however, will not be considered as an effective tool to control the population.

“We do not need chocolate to reach these goals. There is plenty of other bait material that is useful for attracting bears yet not toxic,” said Andrew Timmins, a wildlife biologist and the leader of Fish and Game’s bear project.

Fish and Game hosted two open houses yesterday to talk about population goals included in its draft 10-year management plan under consideration. The plan will drive management decisions for deer, black bears, wild turkeys, moose and small game for the next decade, but won’t set the method or manner by which people can hunt. The plan, which will run from 2016 through 2025, will be presented to the Fish and Game Commission this summer for final review and approval.

Four black bears died from chocolate poisoning last fall. This prompted Timmins to recommend banning the use of chocolate and cocoa derivatives as bait. Veteran hunters, many who use chocolate because it is cheap and it works, say they’ve never had an incident. One hunter even petitioned a superior court to keep Fish and Game from holding a public hearing on the proposal.

None of this, Timmins said, has anything to do with the plan.

“We as an agency feel like toxifying wildlife is not appropriate,” Timmins said. “The fact is poisoning wildlife is inhumane.”

Management goals for white-tailed deer and wild turkeys should remain status quo.

For the state’s 4,000 moose, brainworm and winter tick continue to be threats. The instability in the herd is reflected in the plan, which calls for lower population targets in five of the six management units. In the most populous unit, in the state’s northernmost reaches, the plan calls for 2.24 moose per square mile, compared with 0.2 in the central region, which includes parts of Concord.

“In the current plan we actually have objectives and were fairly well able to achieve those until the last five or six years,” said Kent Gustafson, wildlife program administrator at Fish and Game.

Unlike the current plan, the proposal would allow the state to change the goals to reflect what’s happening with moose.

“We can’t stick to these come hell or high water. We have to be able to maneuver should things continue to change,” said Kristine Rines, the moose project leader. “It may simply become impossible to even think we’re going to reach the goals.”

At that point, Fish and Game could decrease the goal. Under the proposal, moose permits would be halted in certain regions if numbers dwindle to a certain point. Moose hunting in those regions would stay closed until population grows for two straight years and is 30 percent higher than the threshold.

Like Maine and Vermont, New Hampshire plans to issue fewer hunting permits next year. Vermont and Maine send out more hunters per moose than New Hampshire, which issued one permit for every 38 animals.

“We’ll try and provide use for different desires, so we’ve always been more conservative than the two adjacent states in that regard,” Rines said.

Though biologists won’t know for sure until next year, there is hope that the long winter will lead to fewer winter ticks, which fall off deer in spring to reproduce. If they land in snow, they can’t reproduce.

“The longer the snow stays the better off we are, but we won’t know until next year,” she said.

The state had about 39,000 wild turkeys in fall 2014, up from 27,000 in 2004. The target will remain at 40,000, according to the proposal.

New Hampshire, which has one of the lowest-density deer herds in the eastern United States, has about 100,000 white-tail deer. A successful management plan would keep numbers near that.

Michael Amaral of Warner would be glad to see more deer in his management unit, which the state has recommended.

“I think members of the non-hunting community sometimes think that all we do is hide in the woods, find it and kill it,” he said. “It takes me 80 to 100 hours before I do that.”

He hunts deer, in part, because he won a permit and has successfully hunted a moose.

“They seem to be watching the moose population very carefully, which I think is good,” he said.

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter@iainwilsoncm.)


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