More black bears, high demand from hunters will lead to bigger Utah hunt in 2018

(Courtesy Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) The number of black bears is growing in Utah.

More bear hunting will be allowed in Utah this year.

The state wildlife board voted Thursday to issue 860 bear permits, an increase of 102 from 2017. About half of permit recipients kill a bear, said Darren DeBloois, mammals coordinator for the state Division of Wildlife Resources. In 2017, 365 bears were legally killed.

“The increase in permits [is] based in an increased number of bears,” DeBloois told the board. State biologists estimate at least 3,000 to 3,500 black bears live in Utah, a number that has nearly tripled since 2000.

Meanwhile, demand for the permits is high; last year 15,198 people entered the public drawing for the 758 eligible tags, said Phillip Gray, state wildlife licensing coordinator.

“That tag took me 12 years to draw,” said Dan Cockayne, president of the Utah Houndsmen Association, who hunted in the LaSal Mountains last year. ”... It’s a once-in-a-lifetime [opportunity] for me.”

But the board heard objections from hunting opponents.

“There are plenty more wildlife watchers than there are hunters in this state, maybe five times as many,” said conservationist Bob Brister. “Increasing the number of hunting permits by 100 does not take into account the interests of wildlife watchers because the more bears that get hunted, the less bears there are for us to see.”

Lynn Anderson, of Bountiful, described hunters as “immoral.”

“The words used here are dishonest. The words ‘harvest’ and ‘take’ have been used 100 times. I’ve only heard the word ‘kill’ once,” Anderson said. “I would appeal to people’s consciences in this room. If there was anything right about this, you could use the honest words. You could say ‘kill.’ You could say the actual truth. The fact that the actual truth is never said is a reflection of how somewhere deep in everyone’s conscience in this room, you know this is wrong.”

Hunting advocates balked.

“The only reason we’re here talking about this increase of [bear] populations, and whether we hunt them and don’t hunt them or how we hunt them is because of hunters,” said Bill Christensen, Utah director for the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. ”... I’m not afraid to use the world kill.”

Troy Justensen, president of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, called hunters “the true conservationists.”

“Never have I seen the opposition out there dirtying their hands, planting bitterbrush with my group, ... and I have not seen their canceled checks to make sure these species are there for all of us to enjoy,” he said. ” ... We have wildlife today because we hunt them.”

Out of the 860 hunting permits that will be issued, state wildlife managers only expect about 400 black bears will be killed.

The board initially passed a proposal by the Utah Houndsmen Association to expand bear hunting dates in three areas of southeast Utah, where the state’s bear population is concentrated. But the board voted to undo their approval moments later after reviewing possible conflicts with deer and elk hunts. Officers in southeast Utah said they fielded dozens of complaints this year from bowhunters who encountered dogs that were part of bear hunts.

Conservationists also warned that expanded hunting dates could imperil bear populations more than would increasing permits alone, because it would prolong the exposure of sows to hunters.

“There is a biological component in the fall: Females becomes more vulnerable,” DeBloois acknowledged.

The board asked the DWR to review expanded bear hunting dates for 2019.