Missouri's First Black Bear Hunting Season Called 'Reckless and Irresponsible'

The hunting of black bears is permitted in Missouri from Monday for the first time since the state was settled.

A total of 400 permits will be awarded for three hunting zones across the state, with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) setting a limit of 40 black bears of either sex which can be killed. Hunters are instructed to call a hotline before a hunting trip to ensure that quotas have not been met.

When the quotas are met, the black bear hunting season will be closed, though the MDC has said it will consider ending hunting when 80 percent of the quota is fulfilled. Failing this, the black bear hunting season will run from October 18 to October 27.

The move comes in response to the increasing black bear population in the state and as part of its updated Black Bear Management Plan, the MDC said.

"Over the last 50 years, bear numbers in the Missouri Ozarks have been increasing. From 2010 to 2021, Missouri's bear population grew from around 350 bears to around 800," Laura Conlee, a black bear biologist with the MDC, said. "The black bear season begins the third Monday in October and will end after 10 days or until the Zone-Specific harvest quota is achieved at which time the season will close, whichever comes first."

The logic behind the hunting season is the reduction of bear numbers to hopefully prevent an increased spate of human-bear interactions. Unsurprisingly, the move from the MDC has sparked heated discussion.

"With its trophy hunt on black bears in the state set to begin Monday, the Missouri Department of Conservation has taken a reckless and irresponsible turn. A turn against science. A turn against ecology. A turn against public values," Cody Atkinson, state director for the Humane Society of the United States and life-long Missouri resident, wrote in The Joplin Globe. "MDC is trapped in a century-old mindset, one that assumes we must kill bears to conserve them."

Atkinson added that in his opinion, a trophy hunt is not what is needed to solve the problem of human-bear encounters. He wrote: "We need a new approach to the management of bears and other wildlife, one that respects public sentiment concerning charismatic species, takes account of the best scientific knowledge about their population dynamics and places the nonlethal mitigation of human-animal conflict above the demands of trophy hunters and their lobbyists."

Gilbert Randolph, who works for a conservation non-profit organization, is a hunter, angler, and trapper who writes for the Missouri Independent. In the publication, he provided a rebuttal to Atkinson's argument.

"Missourians should be ecstatic that we are now reopening bear hunting. Mr. Atkinson's commentary omits the history of conservation in Missouri." Randolph wrote. "Arkansas' bear hunting program is direct evidence that well-managed bear hunts are indeed no threat to healthy bear populations.

"Our bear population is also connected to Oklahoma's bear population, which has sustainable enough numbers to host a bear hunt. These populations flow between each other and flow between different lands."

Atkinson points to instances in other states in which quotas have failed to limit the number of animals killed, particularly a quota overrun in Wisconsin.

"The failure of Wisconsin officials to halt that hunt once trophy hunters had exhausted the quota produced an embarrassing carnage that put the lie to any claims of wise management," he wrote. "Similarly, Florida's first bear hunt in 2015 was promptly shut down after only one season after trophy hunters slaughtered more than 300 bears— including 36 mother bears who were still nursing cubs—in just two days of what was supposed to be a weeklong season."

The black bear hunting season was proposed and discussed during four open houses held in July 2019. At these meetings, the MDC heard comments from 700 people. Of these, 87 percent approved the introduction of a highly regulated hunting season. When asked if they felt the MDC's bear hunting proposals were reasonable, 89 percent of the 400 in-person respondents and the 300 online respondents agreed they were.

The MDC has placed restrictions on several forms of controversial hunting techniques. Missouri residents with a black bear hunting permit will not be allowed to bait the animals. The use of dogs to hunt black bears in the state is also prohibited, a practice that Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said is a "cruel practice that causes stress and distress to wildlife, and to the hounds themselves."

Additionally, hunters are only permitted to kill bears when they are alone, hopefully preventing the killing of nursing mothers. But Atkinson warned that the hunting measures are dangerous to the welfare of black bears.

"Trophy hunting is particularly dangerous for black bears and their social structure because they reproduce slowly and provide extended care to their young," he wrote. "When a trophy hunter kills an adult breeding male, other males may come into that territory and kill his cubs. In other words, for each bear killed by a trophy hunter, there are more bears at risk. Sadly, MDC has compounded this threat by authorizing the killing of unaccompanied bear cubs."

Atkinson also believes that MDC should consider the wider opinion of Missouri residents. He concluded: "To be fair, MDC has shown its willingness to strengthen its bear-awareness and conflict mitigation programs. That's good because Missourians have made clear how they feel about the killing of bears for trophies.

"A March 2019 Remington Research Group poll found that 67 percent of Missourians do not support black bear trophy hunting and believe that the state should prioritize nonlethal methods to reduce human-bear conflict."

Black Bear
Stock image of a black bear looking cautious. The first black bear hunting season began in Missouri on Monday. Lynn_Bystrom/Getty

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