DNR presents harvest data at Bear Forum – nearly 1,900 bears killed statewide in 2017

DNR presents harvest data at Bear Forum – nearly 1,900 bears killed statewide in 2017

By Victor Skinner

IGNACE – Michigan Department of Natural Resources data from the 2017 season shows close to 1,900 bears were harvested statewide, well above the target level set by the department.

“Our statewide goal harvest was 1,555 and we harvested about 250 more, so we exceed the target by about 16 percent,” Kevin Swanson, DNR bear specialist, told The Bear Facts. “Also, the harvest was up 16 percent from the previous year statewide.”

Swanson unveiled the season’s statistics at the Michigan Bear Forum in December, when the department discussed a host of bear related issues with a variety of stakeholders including the MBHA. Current regulations and harvest quotas remain in place until after next season as part of the DNR’s two-year regulation cycle.

For 2017, “we doubled the number of licenses in the Baldwin Bear Management Unit, so a large percentage (of the harvest increase) came from that unit,” Swanson said. “We’re back at about the harvest average for the last 10 years.”

The state hunter harvest is in addition to tribal hunters.

“Overall, tribal harvest was about 100 bears statewide and that was similar to last year,” Swanson said.

The 2017 harvest continues a years-long trend of Michigan hunters taking more bears than the DNR expected, though Swanson contends it’s “not an issue” as long as “the scientific indicators support it.” DNR officials maintain that current population estimates and other data shows the bear population is stable or increasing.

The overharvest included both state and tribal hunters.

“Under the consent decree, in the Baldwin BMU tribes can take 12.5 percent of the total,” Swanson said. “They were allotted 13 percent and they went way over that.”

“We’ll just meet with the tribes and they will have to be more cautious with allocating their tags,” he said. “Overall, the tribes are in favor of a lower harvest, they’re quite conservative, so I’d say this is a bit of an anomaly.”

In general, Swanson said, “hunter success continues to rise in the northern Lower and it’s been fairly stable in the UP.”

“Hunter effort has been decreasing in the northern Lower, and that’s good,” he said.

State hunters in the Red Oak BMU registered the most bears in northern Lower Peninsula with about 274, and tribal hunters took 25 bears in that unit, which had a desired harvest of 245. In the Baldwin BMU, state hunters took about 74 bears and tribal hunters harvest about 25. The target harvest in the Baldwin unit was 90.

State hunters harvested roughly 20 bears in the Gladwin BMU, where tribal hunters took 3 bears. The DNR set the desired harvest in the Gladwin BMU at 20.

Above the bridge, hunters exceeded the desired harvest during all hunts but four – the first Bergland hunt, the first Amasa hunt, and the first and second hunts in the Gwinn BMU. State hunters harvested a total of 208 bears in the Bergland BMU, 332 in the Baraga BMU, 200 in the Amasa BMU, 119 in the Carney BMU, 176 in the Gwinn BMU, and 284 in the Newberry BMU. State hunters also took five bears on Drummond Island.

Those registration results are skewed somewhat lower than the actual harvest because of registrations without hunt numbers.

Tribal harvest in the UP included 14 bears from the Gwinn BMU, 30 from the Newberry BMU and one bear from Drummond Island. Tribal hunters did not harvest a bear from the Baraga BMU.

Michigan Bear Hunters Association President Tim Dusterwinkle said MBHA officials are somewhat concerned because “harvest numbers keep creeping up.”

“We’re getting awful close to 2,000,” Dusterwinkle said of the statewide harvest.

The MBHA, Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, UP Bear Houndsmen and other groups have urged DNR officials to maintain a statewide harvest in the range of 1,500 to 1,600 bears per year. Many Michigan bear hunters complained about declining bear numbers around the turn of the century, and DNR officials responded with license cuts that seemingly boosted bear numbers in recent years.

“If you look back to the 2000s, we were harvesting over 2,000 bears a year for about 10 years and that created a big public outcry,” Dusterwinkle said, adding that rising success rates are playing a significant role in recent overharvests.

“We’d like to see them adjust for that in the next round of regulations,” he said. “I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the 2000s, so we should be conservative with the harvest.”

Michigan United Conservation Clubs Deputy Director Amy Trotter noted that “in some units we exceeded the desired harvest, in others we’re getting good at guessing.”

In general, folks at the Bear Forum “were pretty comfortable with the harvest numbers or where the quotas were at,” she said. “That’s why they want to keep the quota where it is.”

DNR officials also released data from the 2016 Bear Hunter Survey at the December Bear Forum.

The survey showed 84 percent of bear hunters relied on bait, while 13 percent used dogs or a combination of dogs and bait. Bait hunters harvested about 79 percent of bears in 2016, with an overall success rate of 31 percent.

The remaining 21 percent of bears were presumably harvested by hound hunters, who enjoyed a 45 percent overall success rate.

Roughly 670 hunters, or about 13 percent in 2016, used a guide. About 44 percent of those hunters were successful.

DNR data also showed that the total number of hunters buying bear licenses has decreased 42 percent over the last decade to 9,457 licenses in 2016.