FRONT ROYAL, Virginia – Burgeoning black bear populations throughout the northeast were among the major topics discussed at the annual Northeast Black Bear Technical Committee meeting in Virginia. Maine bear biologists Randy Cross and Jennifer Vashon joined bear biologists from 16 states and six Canadian provinces for the annual conference, which was held August 27 and 28 in Front Royal, Virginia.
“Nearly all the northeast states are increasing hunting opportunities to try and control black bear numbers,” said Vashon. “New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all recently increased the length of their black bear hunting seasons. Connecticut is considering enacting a bear hunt, and Maryland has been increasing the number of bear permits available.”
The two-day meeting focused on issues surrounding bear managers in the northeast. Among the topics discussed over the two days included reports from subcommittees.
Bear population management strategies, including population estimates, modeling techniques and harvest strategies.
Effectiveness of focused hunting in in urban and suburban areas to reduce conflicts between bears and people.
Developing a standard message for how to react in a bear-human encounter.
Standardized protocols for responding to bear attacks and the recent bear attack training received by the Southeast Black Bear Technical Committee.
Summarizing data on care and rehabilitation of orphaned cubs.
Ongoing predator prey/prey research about black bear and deer.
“The first day involves status reports from each state and province, where bear managers highlight what is happening in their state, and then we hear from our working groups that are tasked with researching certain topics,” said Cross.
Vashon noted that one of the more interesting topics for the working groups was the discussion concerning aversive conditioning of nuisance black bears, where bears are hazed or harassed in hopes that nuisance bear behavior won’t be repeated.
“What the group found was that there was no silver bullet or one tool that was effective, and that aversive conditioning is an effective short-term solution, especially when addressing an immediate public safety issue or when property damage is severe,” said Vashon. That was the result of studies in three different states where biologists radio-collared nuisance bears and subjected them to aversive conditioning after a nuisance bear complaint.
“Dealing with increasing nuisance conflicts is a priority for most eastern states,” said Vashon. “The committee is currently evaluating if increasing hunting opportunity around urban areas can alleviate conflicts. Initial findings indicate that increased hunting around urban areas is effective at removing bears that cause problems in backyards.”
One part that is particularly helpful to bear managers is feedback from the committee.
“These people know their subject and can give you feedback. It helps improve your program based upon the shared knowledge within the committee,” said Vashon.
The Northeast Black Bear Technical Committee first met in Maine in 2002 and has met every year since then. Vashon, Maine’s lead bear biologist, was the chair of the committee from 2007-2010. As chair, Vashon was instrumental in bringing the Eastern Black Bear Workshop to Maine in 2013.