Missouri’s first black bear hunting season will begin in February.
The framework for the season, which will allow black bear hunting in the state’s southern regions for Missouri residents only, was approved Friday by the Missouri Conservation Commission.
Missouri residents submitted a slew of negative comments to the state after the commission’s decision to approve the regulatory framework in September.
Out of 1,059 public comments, 1,013 — 96% — were generally opposed to the season, according to Mike Hubbard, resource science supervisor for the commission.
A majority of public comment suggested the hunting season was “cruel and unnecessary.” Residents also cited concerns about the stability of the black bear population in the event of a hunting season.
“I have no in-depth knowledge about the science, but understand that the black bear population is still only beginning to recover and must receive full protection from human intervention/slaughter,” Paulette Zimmerman, a retired English teacher and conservationist, said.
Zimmerman said that black bear species contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem and do not simply exist for human use.
In 2010, the MDC instituted a study to monitor the growth of the black bear population and understand its habitat. This study evolved into a multi-faceted bear management plan that aims to educate the public about black bears and minimize human-bear conflicts.
“There is a variety of different emotions that come up when you talk about black bear management,” an MDC furbearer biologist and leader of the bear management research project, Laura Conlee, said.
Conlee explained that the bear management task force has encouraged public input on the bear hunting season through open houses in 2019 and commenting periods in 2020, which were used to inform the proposal.
Since the conservation department’s initial bear management plan was launched in 2008, the population has been rapidly growing to reflect 350 bears in 2012 (including cubs) and approximately 540 to 840 bears in 2019, the Missourian has reported.
Conlee noted that by 2029, the black bear population in Missouri should double if the growth rate remains constant.
Some critics of the bear hunting season question just how voluminous the population is.
“It would be a real thrill for me to spot an example of Ursus americanus in the forests of Missouri,” 72-year-old wildlife enthusiast Terry Ganey said, stating his opposition to the hunting season.
Ganey explained that in all his years of hiking, fishing, camping and canoeing in the Missouri wild, he has yet to lay eyes on one of the state’s black bears.
Conlee said the discussion around a bear hunting season evolved from the MDC’s mission to provide recreational opportunities for Missourians.
“When the population reached a sustainable level, we planned to look to establish a hunting season,” Conlee said.
Bear quotas and hunting permits will be informed by the population, Conlee said, explaining that the population model allows furbearer biologists to understand how the harvest impacts the population and make recommendations based on existing data.
Conlee said the hunting season is not intended as a trophy hunt, but as part of the MDC’s plan to monitor Missouri’s black bear population.
Conlee also noted that hunters are required to utilize commonly edible portions of the bears, for example, their muscle meat. The MDC will develop educational resources to help guide hunters in utilizing parts of the bear resourcefully, Conlee said.
Missouri State Director for the Humane Society, Amanda Good, worries that the season will become a trophy hunt.
The hunt, she said, “is contrary to the duty to protect and conserve Missouri’s wildlife.”