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Bear hunting now legal here




FRANKFORT

For two days next December it will be legal to shoot bears in Kentucky, under a rule change that won legislative approval Tuesday, and supporters hope the hunt will help restore a fear of humans to the large animals that have increasingly become a nuisance for some people living in the state’s mountain region.

Some bears have become brazen, chasing tourists from campsites, raiding garbage cans, and, in one instance, charging deer hunters, said Rick Allen, president of the Kentucky League of Sportsmen, a hunters organization that had been pushing for a season for the past three years.

“We’re having more and more bear-human conflicts,” Allen said.

The hunting rule approved by the legislature’s Administrative Regulation Review Committee sets a two-day season in three eastern Kentucky counties. Hunters will be allowed to kill a total of only 10 bears.

Kentucky becomes one of 28 states that allow bear hunting, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society opposed the Kentucky hunt, arguing that Kentucky has so few bears that none should be killed.

Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett told lawmakers there may be as many as 350 bears in the area where the hunt will be conducted.

A state commissioned study last year estimated the number of bears at between 90 and 130. Pam Rogers, the Humane Society program director in Kentucky, said the actual number could be event less than that.

“The population of bears is just too small,” Rogers said, no matter the estimate.

Wildlife officers have received regular complaints of bears scavenging for food at campsites and homesteads. And at a state park near Prestonsburg, a bear held tourists at bay inside a cabin until rangers arrived to chase it away.

More than a century ago, bears thrived in Kentucky’s mountain region, but overhunting and habitat loss led to their disappearance. Over the past 20 years, they have been venturing back into Kentucky from the forests of neighboring states like Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Rogers said no state with a comparable population of black bears allows hunting.

Rogers said New Jersey, with an estimated 1,500 bears, doesn’t allow hunting, and neither does Florida, which has as many as 3,000 bears.

Kentucky’s “tiny, fragile population” deserves protection, she said.


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