KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- With bear season beginning this weekend and running to Nov. 14, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is hoping more hunters comply with a request they give up one of the animal’s teeth.
Bear, like deer and moose, are a game species hunters must report when they take one. The animals are weighed and measured at one of hundreds of check stations across Vermont, and the state uses the numbers to not only guess at how many animals are in the woods but also their health, gender, and age demographics.
Wildlife Biologist Forrest Hammond said hunters who get a bear are asked to give up one of the animal’s premolars, a small tooth located behind the incisors that is about three quarters of an inch long and fairly easy to remove. Hammond said the teeth are sent to a lab in Montana which can stain them so their "rings" show. It’s not unlike counting the rings on a tree to determine the age, Hammond said.
"It’s very important information for us as a department to get," said Hammond, as it allows them to get an estimate on how old the bears are, their health, and genders. He said giving the tooth is voluntary and has been done since the 1960s, but in recent years fewer hunters have been helping. He said about 40 percent turn over a tooth, which allows for a decent enough sample, but the more teeth the more accurate the numbers.
Hammond said it’s possible the department could make the tooth collection a requirement if not enough teeth come in. He said efforts are being made this year to get word about the practice out and to let hunters know how important it is to have the data.
Bear hunters in Readsboro, Searsburg and Whitingham are also being asked to be on the look out for collared bears and to avoid shooting them. Hammond said that as of June eight bears living in that area have had collars placed on them in an effort to track their movements. This is being done because of the Deerfield Wind Project, which seeks to place a number of industrial wind turbines on either side of Route 8 in Searsburg and Readsboro on Green Mountain National Forest Land. The project has won approval from Vermont and the U.S. Forest Service, but it came with the condition bear movements in that area be studied both before and after the project in order to gauge the impact the project would have on their habitat.
Hammond said about half the collars collect Global Positioning System data at intervals and store the information. These have to be collected in the winter when the bears are hibernating. Other collars, he said, send the information out using Google Earth at three-hour intervals. By next year he said the department hopes to have a dozen collared.
Shooting a collared bear is not a crime, Hammond said, but the department would like the collar back so it can recover the data and would prefer hunters who see a collared bear give it a pass. He said the collars can be detached automatically if manual removal becomes problematic. He said no collars have been lost so far.
The black bear population in Vermont is estimated to be at over 6,000, which exceeds the department’s target of 4,500 to 6,000. According to the department, 396 were taken by hunters last year. The state would like to reduce the numbers because more have been coming into contact with humans in populated areas.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr