AUGUSTA, Maine — The black bear population is seen as healthy and robust as hunting seasons draw near in northern New England.
In Maine, where the season begins Monday, game officials predict success for hunters because of poor natural food levels that have brought many bears foraging out in the open. That increases chances for hunters who use bait.
“During lean falls like this, it is much easier for hunters to establish new baits because bears are searching more diligently for high-calorie food sources,” said Randy Cross, biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
“Many hunters were frustrated with hunting bears last fall when natural foods were plentiful, but this fall should be a different story for many. Some years, the bears win and others the bear hunters win — this year looks like it will be the latter,” said Cross.
Maine has the largest black bear population in the East, estimated 25,000 to 30,000, the largest in six decades. Last year’s bear hunting season ended with a low harvest of 2,400 bears, IFW says. But it is predicting a much higher total this year.
For the second year, hunters in Maine will be required to extract a tooth from their harvested bear and submit it at the registration station. The teeth are tested so biologists can monitor the bears’ ages.
In neighboring New Hampshire, where the season starts Sept. 1, last season ended with 418 bears harvested, which is within a normal range.
New Hampshire game officials say the bear population appears relatively stable at an estimated 4,800. Both Maine and New Hampshire allow hunting with bait, by stalking or with hounds. Maine also allows trapping of bears, within specified limits.
Vermont’s season also starts Sept. 1. The bear population is estimated at 4,500 and 6,000, with the highest numbers of bears in the center spine of the Green Mountains, the state Fish and Wildlife Department says. The department calls the current bear population robust.
To rebuild its bear population, now said to be at its highest level in two centuries, Vermont has banned trapping, outlawed baiting, controlled the use of hunting dogs and has prohibited the shooting of bears at dumps — which can be a magnet for hungry bruins — for several decades.