Clayton Childers

Several changes are included in a two-year package of bear hunting rules, approved this month by the Natural Resources Commission.

The NRC, which oversees the DNR, voted to ban the use of chocolate and cocoa products in bear bait, boost the number of licenses available to non-residents, bump up license quotas in Lower Michigan, fine-tune quotas in the Upper Peninsula, increase licenses available for Drummond Island and allow larger dog teams.

The chocolate and cocoa ban stems from a poisoning danger which those two substances pose to some wildlife and even bear hunting dogs. Hunters who bait will need to monitor foods they use, such as trail mixes or pastries, that might contain the ingredients.

In past years, rules specified that no more than 2 percent of bear licenses could be issued to non-residents of Michigan. The cap is now 5 percent.

In all three northern Lower Michigan bear hunting units — one of which, the Gladwin unit, includes among other counties Midland, Gladwin and Clare — license quotas will be boosted by a total of 155 tags, a nearly 20-percent increase.

UP license quota trends will vary, some increased and some trimmed, to match trends in bear numbers there.

On Drummond Island, five hunters will get licenses now instead of just one.

And statewide, those who use dogs either on actual hunts or training runs can now turn out eight at a time, rather than six.

Across several species, managers are moving toward multi-year hunting rule packages, minimizing the time devoted to crafting rules and the need for hunters to adapt and comply. Bear hunting rules in two-year sets provide some stability, while allowing every-other-year flexibility as bear populations shift.

Bear hunters are among the hunting groups most tuned in to the ups and downs of the critters they seek. Balancing their desire for more bears with the reluctance of home and cabin owners, and farmers, to have their property trashed by bruins, is a delicate task.

DNR bear and wolf specialist Kevin Swanson said in a press release that the rule changes reflected input from within the DNR and from hunters and others. Comments were abundant during the two-year rule-drafting period, he said, “and we have been able to work together and come up with recommendations many can agree on and support.”

Possible rule changes were weighed by both the DNR’s Wildlife and Law Enforcement divisions and the Bear Forum, representatives of 12 groups, individual hunters, and the U.S. Forest Service.

Why talk about it now? Well, not only is the regulatory action by the NRC recent, the time for applying for late summer and fall bear hunting permits will be here quicker than we think: applications, available online and at license dealers, will be accepted May 1 to June 1. By then, season dates and other deals will be posted online at www.michigan/gov/bear

Email Midland freelance outdoors writer Steve Griffin at griff22450@aol.com

THE BEAR FACTS

• Up to 19,000 black bears live in Michigan, 90 percent of them in the Upper Peninsula.

• It is increasingly common for bears to be seen in southern Michigan, where they often move along river bottoms.

• Bears were culturally and spiritually important to the Anishinabe, Native Americans in what is now Michigan, and were believed to hold the knowledge of botanical medicines. They also figured prominently in Anishinabe vision quests.

• Europeans settling here saw bears as pests. Classified as a game species in 1925, over the last 25 years bears have become widely regarded as prized game animals.

• Hunting is the main management method used to keep bear numbers in balance with their habitat, and to keep negative contacts with people to a minimum.

• Bear numbers have increased over recent decades. So have bear hunter numbers.

• Adult female bears weigh 90-300 pounds, adult males 130-500 pounds.

• An adult black bear is about three feet tall on all four legs, five feet when standing erect.

• In the wild, bears can live 20 to 30 years.

• Bears are omnivores; they’ll eat about anything, from succulent vegetation to insects to berries, to nuts and acorns — plus human garbage, pet foods or birdseed. They can gain up to two pounds per day in fall.

• Bears are most active at dusk and dawn, seldom at night.

• Bear cubs are born hairless and helpless in January, while their mothers are in lethargic near-hibernation in dens. Cubs weigh less than one pound at birth, and stay with their mothers for about 18 months.

• Winter-denned bears can lose up to 30 percent of their weight by spring.

• Bears emerging from dens are hungry; people can avoid bear problems by keeping bird feeders, pet food, garbage and other goodies out of reach.

• Bears are shy: they’ll almost always avoid you if they can.

• Winter den sites, usually a new one each year, can be ground nests, rock cavities, root masses, standing trees, openings under fallen trees, brush piles, or even culverts or porches.

• Michigan’s Black Bear Management Plan’s goals are to maintain a sustainable bear population, facilitate bear-related benefits such as hunting, minimize bear-related conflicts, and conduct science-based and socially acceptable management.

• From 1966 to 1979, firearm deer hunters could shoot a bear without an additional license during the November season. In 1980, a separate bear license was created, and in 1990, bear hunting was placed under a zone and quota system still in use. (It is illegal now to take bear during the November firearm deer season.)

• Michigan’s license quota system limits the number of bear hunters and aims to influence the distribution and density of hunters in bear management units. Unsuccessful applicants earn preference points that boost their odds later.

Source: Michigan DNR

Compiled and edited by Steve Griffin from Midland Daily News.