SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah wildlife officials are proposing changes that could increase the number of bears killed by hunters in 2015, saying the moves could reduce dangerous human-bear conflicts and stabilize the bear population.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says 81 bears have been killed for safety reasons this year so far by state and federal wildlife managers, compared with an annual average of 50.

Leslie McFarlane, mammals program manager for the wildlife division, said bear incidents were up across the state, particularly along the Wasatch Front and in the Uinta Basin.

McFarlane attributes the increase in bears killed for reasons such as eating livestock and posing a risk to humans to an overall increase of both bears and people in the same areas.

The state's bear population has doubled during the past 15 years to 4,100, growing by 5 percent to 6 percent a year, according to wildlife officials.

The number of bears killed by Utah hunters during the last three years ranged from 230 to 270. Proposed changes to the 2015 hunt could push that number to between 300 and 320 bears.

Western Wildlife Conservancy director Kirk Robinson said he questions the state's numbers and rationale for boosting the number of bears killed. Utah could actually be home to as few as 2,500 bears, he said.

“I seriously doubt if DWR has any idea how many black bears there are in Utah,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “This is all based on modeling, and all models of this kind rest on doubtful assumptions.”

Robinson said he believes a growing number of people are doing things to attract bears that become nuisances. He urges the wildlife agency to do more to educate the public before turning to hunting as a solution.

Bears can become hooked on improperly stored trash at homes and businesses as well as on people who intentionally feed them.

The division will present various proposals for changes to the bear hunt at a series of Regional Advisory Council meetings across the state in December. Each proposal involves different hunting seasons as well as different hunting tactics.

Meetings are scheduled for Tuesday, in Springville; Wednesday in Brigham City; Dec. 9 in Beaver; Dec. 10 in Green River; and Dec. 11 in Vernal.

Public comments will be gathered, and the Utah Wildlife Board is expected to take action at a Jan. 8 meeting in Salt Lake City.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune,