Missouri to vote on black bear hunting season after over 2,000 speak out against it

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Black bear hunting in Missouri could move one step closer to reality on Friday, but records obtained by the Humane Society of the United States and reviewed by FOX4 reveal strong opposition to the measure.

The Missouri Department of Conservation Commission votes Friday on what it calls a limited and highly regulated black bear hunting season.

But Humane Society officials say more than 2,000 people who submitted comments to the Missouri Department of Conservation opposed this action, and less than 100 people favored what the Humane Society considers a “trophy-hunting season” for black bears.

RELATED: Missouri black bear hunting season plan announced

“Opening a trophy hunt on our state’s rare, iconic bears to appease a few trophy hunters is ill-advised and not based on the best available science,” said Amanda Good, Missouri state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

“The public has clearly spoken time and again and shown their strong opposition to having Missouri’s small bear population killed so a few trophy hunters can have a bearskin rug.”

According to records obtained by the Humane Society, here are some of the comments the MDC received about the proposed black bear hunting season:

“There’s no justification for opening a bear-hunting season,” one person said. “The state’s plan would benefit a small minority of trophy hunters at the expense of most Missouri citizens, who value these beautiful animals in the wild and don’t want to see them killed.”

“At this time, I don’t believe that the state is home to enough black bears to warrant a hunting season,” another person said.

“Please, please, please do not kill our Missouri bears. They appear on our state flag historically as being very much a part of our terrific state,” one person wrote.

“I have ZERO support for this regulation,” another commented. “Please do not enact it.”

A small percentage of people, however, supported this measure.

“As a landowner with bears on my property, I strongly support regulated hunting,” one person wrote. “If the bear numbers continue to grow unchecked, we will have a ‘bear problem’ that may cause a lot of property/livestock damage.”

Another wrote: “The population in the state and in bordering states shows a growing population. The hunt will ensure the stability and future of bears in Missouri.”

The state historically had a large bear population, but MDC officials say habitat loss and unregulated bear harvests nearly wiped out Missouri’s bear population by the early 1900s.

The animal’s population, however, increased in the early 1950’s when Arkansas started to stock bear.

The Humane Society said one study suggests Missouri had about 279 black bears in 2012.

“And since then, no other biologists have conducted a credible scientific count of Missouri’s bear population,” it said in a written statement. “No one, including the MDC, knows how many black bears reside in the Show-Me State, yet the agency is proposing a trophy hunt on this unrecovered population.”

But the MDC said it’s monitored the black bear population for a decade and seen steady growth – from an estimated 350 (including cubs) in 2012 to an estimated 540 to 840 in 2019. MDC also estimates the black bear population will double in the next 10 years.

“The black bear population has reached a limit to where it can sustain its population with a regulated hunting season,” Laura Conlee, MDC’s furbearer biologist, told FOX4.

“This (proposal) is for a limited and highly regulated bear hunting season. We will have multiple checks and balances on that system that include permit quotas and harvest quotas so we can sustain our bear population, make adjustments, and manage the hunting season.”

Conlee said MDC currently estimates it will allow a harvest quota of about 50 black bears through the state’s three bear management zones. And MDC can adjust those quotes throughout the season, she said.

Asked about allegations that an organization with ties to a trophy hunting group help fund the state’s black bear studies, Conlee said: “Missouri has invested around $3 million in bear research since 2010. The Safari Club International’s contributions are minimal. They contributed some (tracking) collars and cameras.

“Black bears are native wildlife species in Missouri that are treated like other native wildlife species,” she added. “We have hunting seasons for other native wildlife species, like turkeys and deer. And bear meat is a high protein food.”

Conlee, however, did acknowledge that solitary black bears — including young cubs – could be fair game for hunters under this proposal.

“There are provisions that limit the harvest of young bears and that you can’t harvest bears in the presence of other bears, like a momma bear and her cubs,” she said. “If a cub wanders off by itself it would technically be eligible for harvest. But we provide education for hunters and, again, there are provisions about hunting bears in the presence of other bears.”

Missouri’s Conservation Commission vote will be live-streamed starting at 9 a.m. Friday. You can watch it here. If approved, the earliest a black bear hunting season would open in Missouri is fall 2021.

But the Humane Society’s Amanda Good hopes commissioners will listen to the more than 2,000 people who spoke out against black bear hunting in the state and reject this measure.

“We urge the commission to do the right thing, honor the public’s wishes, and keep our bears protected,” she said.

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