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Proposal to hunt bears in Kentucky shot down


Black bears, legally protected in Kentucky, have been flaunting their invulnerability by frightening tourists, making brazen raids on cabins and pilfering food all over the state’s Appalachian region.

“They have no fear,” said Rick Allen, president of the League of Kentucky Sportsmen, who is proposing giving hunters a go at the pesky animals that he believes could number 1,000 or more. “Without a hunting season, there’s no way to put a fear of humans into them.”

Despite widespread complaints, a state wildlife committee shot down a proposal last week for a hunting season. Committee chairman Doug Hensley said such a decision needs to wait at least until next year when biologists are expected to have a better idea of how many bears live in the expansive mountain region.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a healthy bear population. For example, biologists collected 350 hair samples from barbed wire fencing over the summer. They had reports of more than 20 bears run over by motorists in the past two years. And four bears were found shot this year.

Wildlife officers have received complaints of bears chasing tourists away from campsites, eating from backyard trash cans and stealing honey from beehives. And at a state park near Prestonsburg last month, a bear held tourists at bay inside a cabin until rangers arrived to chase it away.

Mark Marraccini, spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said the bear tried for several minutes to break into the cabin at Jenny Wiley State Park before giving up and going to sleep right outside the door.

“It curled up on the front porch and was laying there like a dog,” Marraccini said.

Such incidents prompted The League of Kentucky Sportsmen to propose a limited hunting season during which only five to 10 bears could be shot, or a bearrunning season to allow hunters to pursue bears with packs of hounds.

A century ago, bears thrived in Kentucky’s mountain region, but over-hunting led to their disappearance. Over the past 20 years, they have been venturing back through the forest of Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, once again giving eastern Kentucky a self-sustaining bear population.

Animal rights groups oppose a hunting season on bears in Kentucky, whether with guns or dogs, said Andrew Page, director of The Hunting Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States.

“Targeting the small, vulnerable population of Kentucky black bears for their heads and their hides would be a tragedy,” he said.

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.

Wildlife biologist Steven Dobey, head of Kentucky’s black bear restoration program, said counting the animals is no easy chore because they move around so much.

“We don’t have enough data to lend any indication to how many we have,” he said. “We know we have them over a large area.”

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