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Humane Society Urges Beshear to Suspend Kentucky's Black Bear Hunt

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Ken Thomas
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The Humane Society is calling on Gov. Steve Beshear to immediately stop the state’s black bear hunt, after the quota during the first archery portion of the season was exceeded.

The fall archery/crossbow bear hunting season opened and closed on Oct. 24. The quota was 10 bears or five female bears — whichever came first — but because of the delay in Kentucky’s telecheck system, 22 bears were harvested. Ten of those were females.

“The number dead can actually be quite in excess of what’s been reported,” said Humane Society Kentucky Director Kathryn Callahan. She said it’s probable that bears left behind orphaned cubs or could have been injured with arrows and eventually died in the woods, and weren’t officially counted as part of the hunt.

Callahan said her organization opposes killing animals, but the group’s opposition to Kentucky’s black bear hunt isn’t a blanket statement against hunting.

“The idea, though, is any killing of animals has to be sustainable,” she said. “So therefore, when we deal with a case of black bear hunting like we’re facing today, we know it’s not going to be a sustainable population if the hunt continues. And that really is the issue.”

The Humane Society also opposed state measures earlier this yearto raise the bear hunt quota, extend the hunting season and expand the areas available for hunting.

Black bears in Kentucky are a wildlife success story. The species was eliminated in the state by the early 1900s, but in the past two decades has been re-established and slowly growing.

Kentucky has two distinct populations of black bears: the Big South Fork population in McCreary, Pulaski, Wayne, Whitley and Laurel counties; and the Eastern Kentucky population, mainly in Bell, Harlan, Letcher and Pike counties. The two populations don’t mix, partly because they’re bisected by I-75.

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mark Marraccini said the state is confident that the yearly bear hunting season won’t impede the progress black bears have made in Kentucky.

“We have a very conservative harvest every year,” he said. “So, the fact that we take a few females every year during the hunt, really that’s already figured into the management model.”

Female black bears, which have fewer cubs relative to other animals, play a particularly vital role in maintaining the species' population.

Marraccini estimated there are anywhere from 500-700 black bears in Kentucky. Recent studies from the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture are lower.

John Cox, assistant professor of wildlife and conservation biology, said a2010 survey found 38 bears in Kentucky’s Big South Fork Population. But the population crosses the Tennessee border, and there are about 200 bears total. A partial survey of the Eastern Kentucky population found about 300.

But even assuming a conservative estimate of 300 total bears in Kentucky and a population that is growing every year, Cox said he doesn’t believe the current quota of 35 bears, or even slightly more, will harm the population.

“There’s nothing there that really raises any kind of alarm bells for us, at least in the short term,” he said. “But if it did, I would let (Fish and Wildlife) know. For me, as a conservation biologist, that’s kind of an ethical responsibility that I have.”

There are three more bear hunting seasons coming up over the next two months: a modern gun season with a quota of 15 bears (or five female bears), a bear hunt with dogs with a quota of five bears, and a youth hunter season with a quota of five bears.

(Photo credit: Ken Thomas/Creative Commons)

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Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.