Wildlife Conservation Officer Gerald Kapral believes this year's bear season may present a different dilemma to hunters in the northeast.
Like past years, bear numbers are high in Kapral's district of northern Luzerne and Lackawanna counties. He even suspects there are more bears in the area than ever.
The problem that hunters may encounter, he said, is finding bears in areas where it's legal to hunt them.
Most of my bear complaints and sightings are coming from heavily populated areas – Shavertown, Trucksville, Dallas, Nanticoke and Moosic, Kapral said. They're really hanging in the populated areas. There's a lot of them, but whether they're in huntable areas when the season starts remains to be seen.
Hunters will get their first crack at harvesting a bear when the statewide archery season kicks off Monday and continues to Friday. The four-day firearms season opens on Saturday, Nov. 17 and then continues from Monday through Wednesday, Nov. 19-21. After that, extended bear seasons will be held in certain Wildlife Management Units coinciding with the rifle deer season.
Locally, an extended bear season will be held in WMUs 3D, 4C, 4D and 4E from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1.
Kapral is hoping that archery hunters, who have a less restrictive safety zone, will be able to harvest some of the suburban bears that are generating complaints in populated areas.
We may see an increase in archery hunters this year, especially if the weather is nice, Kapral said. The bear numbers are the highest we've ever seen. They're like flies in a barnyard.
In 2011, hunters harvested 4,350 bears, which was the highest harvest in Pennsylvania history. In 2005, hunters took 4,164 bears, which was the second highest number. Over the past 10 years, hunters have taken more black bears than in any other decade since the Game Commission began keeping bear harvest records in 1915.
Conditions this year are favorable for another record harvest, said Mark Ternent, Game Commission bear biologist. Bear populations are up in many parts of the state relative to past years, hunter participation is expected to be good, based on the number of bear licenses being purchased, and acorn crops are above average, which keeps bears out of hibernation longer and available to hunters. The only real unknown is if we will have favorable weather for hunting on opening day.
In the lower half of Luzerne County and in Carbon County, WCO Cadet Shawna Burkett said bear complaints are also numerous. Burkett has been patrolling with WCO Dave Allen and said many complaints have been generated from the Mountain Top and Hanover Township areas, along with three in Carbon County this past week.
Like Kapral, Burkett is counting on archery hunters to reduce some of the suburban bear complaints.
It looks like the weather is going to be warm, so that will drive hunter activity and keep the bears moving as well, she said. We've had a lot of reports of decent size bears as well.
Bill Williams, information and education supervisor for the PGC's Northeast Region, said any bear taken in archery season will help with nuisance complaints, but it's the rifle season that's capable of having an impact simply on the numbers that are harvested each year.