2012-2013 Bear Quotas Up for Debate

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) saw a lively discussion of bear quotas and data at their March meeting in Lansing last week. The DNR Bear and Furbearer Specialist Adam Bump presented a thorough look (bear presentation starts on page 39 of PDF) of the last decade's data on estimated bear harvest, hunting success on both private and public lands, number of hunters and hunting effort. Dr. Scott Winterstein of Michigan State University also provided his third-party evaluation of the model and data used to estimate bear populations
Another meeting in the UP is scheduled for March 31 in Marquette at Northern Michigan University, which will provide the background presentation and answer questions from the public.
Upper Peninsula West and East Eco-Regions
An analysis of stakeholders shows that many attendees of the Bear User Group meetings, hound hunting organizations, and some individual hunters support an increase bear numbers (done through a reduction in bear hunting permits); however some deer hunters, some bear hunters and guides, and the Western UP Citizen's Advisory Council would prefer no change or even fewer bears (more bear licenses).
So what does the biological data say? Initially, the DNR thought the bear population was stable in the West UP and may be increasing in the East UP. However new research data just released 2 days before the NRC meeting says otherwise. In the UP, the DNR uses Tetracycline capture-mark-recapture (CMR) estimates and the new trend line shows that the UP bear population is in decline in both the east and west regions.
Now, among the regulation options presented to the NRC for discussion, only Option 1 would stabilize this decline. Option 1 would reduce available licenses by about 30 percent and add one year in just a few hunt periods to the time needed to accumulate enough bear preference points for a license. Option 2 and 3 would still contribute to the decline in population at varying rates over the next 5 years. Many hunters in the audience testified that they could live with Option 1, but some suggested even more aggressive action to decrease permits and increase bear numbers. Some NRC Commissioners seem concerned with the reduction in recreational opportunity.
Northern Lower Peninsula Eco-Region
In the NLP it is a different story, where the population is in a slight decline and the goal is to stabilize it. All the alternatives allow the bear population to reduce slightly (5-10%) before stabilizing it over the next 4 years. To do this, a small increase in licenses would be available for the Baldwin Unit (+20) and a small decrease in licenses would be made for Gladwin (-30). Where the 3 regulation Options differ is how they handle the Red Oak Unit. In an amazing feat of near unanimity from hunters, all of the individuals testifying during the public comment session at the NRC supported Option 3. This option would reduce Red Oak licenses by 30% for 2012, and then reduce them by another 10% each year for the next 3 years.
These bear regulations are up for action at the next NRC meeting on April 5 in Lansing.

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