Despite reducing the number of permits available to bear hunters this fall, wildlife officials with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources say the bear harvest will be higher than expected.
That makes two years in a row, at a time when the DNR is trying to hold harvests down in order to increase the state's bear population. Currently, the state has an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 bears, said Dave Garshelis, leader of the DNR's bear project.
"We really thought by cutting back on quotas, we could successfully bring the population up," Garshelis said. "I haven't given up on that."
Minnesota's bear season opened Sept. 1 and continues through Oct. 15, but most of the bears are shot earlier in the season rather than later.
Wildlife officials were expecting a harvest of about 1,800 bears this fall, with no more than 800 of them female. Garshelis said he now expects the harvest to total between 2,000 and 2,050. Last year's harvest, also higher than expected, was 2,641, and more than 1,000 females were taken.
The bright side of this year's harvest is that the harvest of female bears is expected to be just under the 800 threshold, Garshelis said.
"It would have been nice to take 600 females this year," he said, "We'll still get an increase (in population) out of this season because we did OK with females, but it isn't going to be the rate of (population) increase we hoped for."
Tim Humphrey, a bear hunting guide who owns Aspen Outfitting in Cass Lake, Minn., said he doesn't believe hunters are taking too many bears.
"I don't think they're overharvesting by any means," Humphrey said. "I've seen the population abundant, and I've seen it decline. Now, in the last couple of years, there's been an increase in the number of bears in the woods."
As the number of bear hunting permits has been reduced in recent years, most hunters must wait three to four years just to get a permit. That has changed hunters' behavior in some ways, DNR officials say. When hunters could get permits more readily and hunted most years, they were willing to pass up smaller bears while hoping a larger one would come to their baits. If a larger bear didn't show, the hunters sometimes went home empty-handed. They accepted that because they knew they were likely to have a chance to hunt the following year.