State plans to reduce black bear population in valley

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is pondering a new proposal to reduce the bear population by 25 percent in the Shenandoah Valley.

The proposal would give bear hunters in the Shenandoah Valley region three more days of open season hunting and an extra week of hunting with a muzzle loading firearm. Currently, the muzzle loader bear season is Nov. 12 to Nov. 18 throughout the state.

The move to reduce the bear population in the valley comes as a result of concerns about bears coming into contact with humans in the area.

According to Jaime Sajecki, the black bear project leader of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries judges its goals for the bear population based on its estimate of the number of bears humans are willing to tolerate in an area.

“That sort of level is constantly shifting,” Sajecki said.

The proposal has been criticized by the Wildlife Center of Virginia, a conservation nonprofit out of Waynesboro, Virginia. The Wildlife Center has argued that problems involving bears should be addressed by changing human behavior, rather than extending bear hunting season.

Ed Clark, the president and co-founder of the Wildlife Center, said that he wished the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries would work more with organizations like his to mount educational campaigns. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has an educational program called Becoming Bear Aware that advises people on how to avoid attracting bears.

But Clark said the department doesn’t have the public relations resources to proactively educate people on how to avoid having bears on their property.

“The bottom line is they’re not in the education business, they’re in the wildlife management business,” Clark said.

The public comment period on the proposal is now closed. The Board of Game and Inland Fisheries will finalize its recommendations during its meeting on May 24 in Henrico. The changes to hunting season would be enacted this year.

Contact staff writer Max Lee at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or mlee@nvdaily.com