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Bear registrations drop sharply, as anticipated

Bumper berry crop has made hunter baits less effective

A young bear looks down from a high perch in an aspen tree. FILE PHOTO

Posted Wednesday, September 14, 2022 6:31 pm

Marshall Helmberger

REGIONAL—Fewer bear hunters are reporting success this year as abundant wild food sources appear to have given the advantage to the bears. As of Sept. 13, hunter registrations statewide are down 34 percent over last year.

Last year’s harvest, which fell just shy of 3,000 for the season, was boosted by drought conditions that dried up most berry crops that bears rely on as they seek to put on fat reserves for the winter. Hungry bears are more likely to respond to the baits that hunters put out near their stands, so poor conditions give hunters the advantage.

This year, a bumper crop of wild fruits, mushrooms, acorns, and other wild foods have made baiting less effective. “Bear foods are definitely the driving factor here,” said Jessica Holmes, Tower area DNR wildlife manager.

This year’s abundant wild foods are helping female bears most of all, and that’s likely to aid in the effort to rebuild the region’s bear population. DNR wildlife managers have been trying to rebuild the bear population in the region, which was cut in half a decade ago by several years of high hunting mortality.

But the rebound has been slower than expected, as a series of poor food years have left females more vulnerable to hunters. Female bears are typically more cautious about approaching hunters’ baits, but they tend to overcome that reluctance when natural foods are short.

Last year, hunters took an even number of males and females. This year, however, males are making up about 62 percent of the registered bears. “This is quite a contrast to last year,” said Holmes.

As of Sept. 13, hunters had registered a total of 132 bears in permit area 25, which includes northern St. Louis and the eastern half of Koochiching counties. Of those, 82 were males, while 56 were female. Hunters had registered 157 bears in permit area 31, which runs from Tower and Ely down to the North Shore, including 107 males and 50 females.

Given the pace of the hunt, Holmes said she expects the final harvest will come in right around 2,000 bears this season, If so, that would be the lowest harvest since 2018.

The bear season runs through Sunday, Oct. 16, although most bears are taken in the first ten days of the season.

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