KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation wants public input on a plan to allow black bear hunting in the state as early as next year.
The proposal has already sparked sharp criticism from the U.S. Humane Society, which said MDC only developed the plan to appease trophy hunters.
According to MDC, there are approximately 540 to 840 black bears in the state and the numbers continue to increase.
“With Missouri’s growing black bear population, MDC is proposing the development of a limited and highly regulated bear hunting season,” MDC Biologist Laura Conlee said in a written statement. “The hunting season would provide Missouri residents with the opportunity to participate in the sustainable harvest of a valuable natural resource.”
Under the department’s proposal, black bear hunting season would:
· Only be open to Missouri residents
· Run 10-days starting the third Monday of October 2021
· Only be allowed in three “Bear Management Zones” (BMZ) in southern Missouri
· Limit hunters to one bear. Hunters are prohibited from disturbing or pursing bears in a den
· Allow both archery and firearms equipment. Baiting and the use of dogs is prohibited for now, but may be considered in the future
· Require an annual online permit application. Permits will be determined each summer through a random drawing
· Limit the number of hunting permits for each BMZ
· Prohibit the sale of harvested bear parts. Taxidermy is allowed
The department said the proposed bear-hunting season, which must be approved by the Missouri Conservation Commission, is an “essential part of population management” for the state’s growing number of black bears.
But the U.S. Humane Society disputes that claim and strongly opposes the department’s proposal.
“Missouri has no good reason for allowing such a hunt,” Kitty Block, president and CEO of the U.S. Humane Society, wrote on her blog. “Bears self-regulate their own populations because of limited food availability and slow reproduction.”
Missouri’s black bear population is small and still recovering from when it was nearly wiped in the late 1800s by overhunting and logging, Block said.
“The Missouri Department of Conservation estimates that there are now approximately 540 to 840 bears in the state,” she said. “But some studies show that those numbers may be inflated. And even if there are as many bears as the MDC claims, it’s still not a large number.
Block said the department has ulterior motives for proposing a bear-hunting season.
“Fact is, the only reason the MDC is proposing this hunt is to appease trophy hunters,” she wrote. “But Missourians do not support it, not least because it would deprive a majority of the state’s residents of the joy of seeing a black bear in the wild.”
A March 2019 Humane Society poll revealed nearly half of Missourians oppose hunting the state’s black bears and less than one-third support such action, Block said.
“Instead of allowing trophy hunters to kill them, the MDC ought to be working hard to preserve its bear population,” she wrote. “(Bears) are slow to reproduce, which means hunting them can lead to their numbers dropping even faster than projected.
She added: “Missouri’s wildlife officials would do well to heed the needs of the state’s wonderful wild animals, and the wishes of their residents, instead of kowtowing to a handful of trophy hunters.”
Missourians can comment on the proposed black bear hunting season on MDC’s website. Written comments can be mailed to: Missouri Department of Conservation, Attention Michele Baumer, PO Box 180, Jefferson City MO 65102.
The department will accept comments through June 5, 2020.