By PATRICK WHITTLE | Associated Press
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Northern New England’s bear hunters might have a more difficult time bagging a bruin this year due to an abundance of natural food.
Most of a black bear’s diet is plant material, such as acorns and berries. Those foods are more readily available this year than last year, and that means bears are less likely to travel for food or take bait laid by humans, wildlife managers said.
State officials said the heavy supply of nuts and mast for bears to munch on is good news because dangerous encounters with the big animals are much less likely when they are well-fed. But as hunting season for bears opens this week in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, hunters said they are expecting a difficult season.
Maine bear hunters rely heavily on bait, typically sugary human food such as doughnuts, to catch bears. More than three quarters of the 3,239 bears harvested in the state last year were shot over bait. David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said he expected 2015 will be a bad year for hunting and a good year for bear reproduction.
“The trees are just hanging with apples,” Trahan said. “There’s acorns, there’s beech nuts and there’s berries. It’s not going to be a good baiting season.”
New Hampshire bears are also benefiting from plentiful blueberries, raspberries and chokeberries. The Granite State is also starting its ban of the use of chocolate to bait bears this year. Vermont doesn’t allow use of bait to hunt bears at all.
Hunters in New Hampshire can still use items including chocolate doughnuts or pastries this year, but all chocolate will be banned in 2016. The ban drew protests from some hunters who said it would make hunting more expensive, less successful and less attractive to out-of-state hunters.
Last year, New Hampshire hunters took 784 bears. Bear biologist Andrew Timmins of the state’s Fish and Game Department said it’s possible the harvest could fall to between 500 and 600 bears in a good food year like this.
Maine residents rejected a ballot question last year that would have eliminated the use of bait, dogs or traps to hunt bears. Hunting reform advocates said they haven’t abandoned the possibility of future efforts to try to restrict the use of the methods.
Associated Press writer Rik Stevens in Concord, New Hampshire, contributed to this report.