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Andrew Timmins: (603) 788-3164
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Steve Weber: (603) 271-2461
October 16, 2003

Bear Harvest Unusually High
Emergency Season-shortening Measures May Occur Next Week

CONCORD, N.H. -- The number of black bears harvested by hunters is breaking records in northern New Hampshire, according to wildlife managers with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. The high harvest -- 622 bears statewide as of October 10 -- is the result of unusual environmental conditions, primarily limited natural food sources, which have made bears more vulnerable than normal during the early part of the season, which began September 1.

N.H. Fish and Game is monitoring the situation daily and will make a decision in about a week whether the bear population needs protection through an emergency closure of bear hunting seasons. The agency will be watching to see if bears go to den early, which is often the case in years when natural food supplies are low, and would reduce their vulnerability. The opening of other hunting opportunities -- such as muzzleloader season for white-tailed deer, which begins November 1 -- may also have an impact on harvest numbers; careful monitoring will help wildlife managers make a scientifically sound decision about season length.

Lee E. Perry, Director of N.H. Fish and Game, emphasized that the agency's mandate is to conserve, manage and protect New Hampshire's wildlife resources. Under these unusual circumstances, he said, "We are ready to step up and take responsibility for protecting the bear population if needed."

The high kill rate this year is because of increased bear activity in exposed areas, apparently driven by what biologists are calling a "mast bust." Andrew Timmins, Bear Project Leader for Fish and Game, says that production and availability of mast (beech nuts, acorns and wild apples, usually bears' favored foods) are way down from normal levels, causing bears to seek food elsewhere -- for example, corn fields and backyard apple trees. When bears leave their secure forest environment to look for alternate food sources in valleys and floodplains, they are highly visible and their movements are predictable, which makes them vulnerable to hunters and other mortality factors such as car collisions.

The New Hampshire bear population has grown steadily over the past decade, and currently is estimated to be at about 5,500, which biologists say is a fairly high level for the state. Periodic peaks in bear harvest occur; only in extreme cases may they result in long-lasting impacts on the overall bear population.

For more information on hunting in New Hampshire, click here .

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