Department creates separate bear hunting license

Hunters in Virginia will now have to purchase a separate hunting license to harvest black bears.

At its July 1 meeting, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries board of directors created a license to hunt bears that is separate from turkeys and deer.

Jamie Sajecki, the black bear project leader for the department, said hunting licenses traditionally included all three animals – in what was referred to as a “big game license.”

The new bear license costs $21 for in-state residents and $151 for out-of-state residents, compared to the $23 license to hunt both deer and turkey. Bagging regulations for all three species remains unchanged.

Sajecki said the public has been divided about the licensing change.

“There’s a lot of people that are strongly against it,” Sajecki said. “I can see both sides of it.”

The new licensing will give the department a better sense of how many people are hunting black bears, the demographics of the hunters and how they are hunting.

In some cases, Sajecki noted, black bears are killed in “opportunistic harvesting” while a hunter is looking for other species like deer.

“When we say opportunistic, we just mean that they were out there hunting for another species, but had the opportunity to harvest something else,” Sajecki said.

She said the department is unsure how this separate license will affect the management plan for black bears as well as population numbers.

One of the fears with the new licensing regulations is the bear population will boom, causing problems for agricultural producers and residents, Sajecki said.

Sajecki noted that local hunters carry out the lethal management of the black bear populations in Virginia – with the goal of balancing mortality rates with survival rates.

Sajecki said this stability was met in 2014 for Region 2 of the state – which includes Shenandoah, Warren and Frederick counties.

In fact, the harvest numbers for black bears in those counties have been fluctuating over the last decade.

Sajecki said numbers have fluctuated based on weather conditions, mast crop of acorn and environmental factors.

“One year isn’t going to be overly telling, I don’t think, in terms of harvest,” Sajecki said, noting the harvest fluctuations.

At the same time, Sajecki said, “If there’s a huge drop after this year, obviously we’re going to have to do something about it pretty quickly.”

For now, Sajecki said the fall hunting season “will have to run its course” before the department can evaluate any changes to its management plan.

Sajecki said, “We’re kind of in unknown territory when it comes to being able to predict what’s going to happen. But we’ll see.”

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com