Whitesburg KY
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Bear hunting is expected to be legal here in ’09

Black bear hunting is expected to become a legal sport in much of Letcher County.

At its quarterly meeting earlier this month, the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission proposed a Kentucky resident-only black bear season in Letcher, Harlan and Pike counties from December 19 through December 20, 2009. Bear hunting would not be allowed in the Pine Mountain Wildlife Management Area, much of which lies in Letcher County.

If the proposal is approved by the Kentucky General Assembly, modern firearms, muzzleloader, crossbow and archery equipment would be legal for the season. The season bag limit would be one bear and there would be a quota of 10 total bears or five female bears, whichever limit is reached first. Bear hunters would be required to take the bear to a designated check station by 8 p.m. and “telecheck” the bear by midnight on the day of harvest.

The League of Kentucky Sportsmen has been pushing for a hunting season, saying some black bears have lost their fear of humans.

Wildlife officers have received regular complaints of bears scavenging for food at campsites and homesteads. In Whitesburg over the weekend, a black bear fled into the surrounding mountainside when city employees arrived in the Upper Bottom neighborhood to investigate complaints the bear was there looking for food. And at a state park near Prestonsburg last year, a bear held tourists at bay inside a cabin until rangers arrived to chase it away.

The proposal, which now goes to a legislative committee for review, is drawing opposition from animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States.

“A bear hunt in Kentucky amounts to nothing more than a trophy hunt, allowing trophy hunters the opportunity to obtain a head and a hide,” said Andrew Page, head of the Humane Society’s Wildlife Abuse Campaign.

Page argues that the state’s bear population is too small and fragile to support hunting.

Wildlife biologist Steven Dobey, head of Kentucky’s black bear restoration program, said a recently completed study found between 90 and 130 bears in Letcher and three other counties – Bell, Harlan, and Pike – that are believed to have the largest populations. More than a century ago, bears thrived in the mountain region, but over-hunting led to their disappearance. Over the past 20 years, they have been venturing back into Kentucky from the forests of Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. The bears join elk, deer, and turkey as species now flourishing in the mountain region.

“It’s an incredible success story,” said Karen Alexy, wildlife director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Some other animals, humans brought them back. The bears have colonized on their own. That’s impressive.”

Twenty-seven states allow some form of black bear hunting, according to the Animal Protection Institute based in California. Neighboring Virginia and West Virginia are among them.

Dobey said the dates selected for Kentucky’s hunt will help ensure that most of the bears killed will be males, because most females will be holed up in dens for the winter.

“I don’t think by any means it will be a detriment to population growth,” he said.

Rick Allen, head of the Kentucky League of Sportsmen, said he believes a hunting season is in the best interest of bears because it will instill a fear of humans that will drive them deeper into the forests. That, he said, will help prevent nuisance bears from being shot by landowners.

“It’s important to keep the fear in these bears, to keep the natural fear of humans, so they won’t be getting into trouble, digging into people’s trash,” Allen said.

Compiled from Mountain Eagle and Associated Press reports.

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