34 bears killed in recent Georgia hunt, raising concern



MACON, Ga. — About a tenth of the Middle Georgia black bear population was killed when the first-ever open bear season was held in three counties last month. Although some wildlife advocates are raising concerns about harm to the bear population, state officials say the hunt will be held the same way next year.

A population of about 300 bears, centered in Houston and Twiggs counties, was a key driver behind Georgia’s $29 million purchase of 10,000 acres of the Oaky Woods Wildlife Management area in Houston County a year ago. As bear and human populations grow, the state Department of Natural Resources has fielded an increasing number of complaints about nuisance bears.
For more than a decade, hunters competed for permits to participate in a quota hunt at Ocmulgee Wildlife Management Area in Twiggs and Bleckley counties. On average, one bear was shot every three years, said Bobby Bond, a senior wildlife biologist and specialist on Middle Georgia’s bears for the DNR.

But this year, the state settled on a one-day open season on private lands in Bibb, Houston and Twiggs counties. Thirty-four bears were killed Nov. 12, half of them female, and all near Tarversville in Twiggs County, Bond said.

“We killed too many bears, especially females,” said John Trussell, an outdoor writer and founder of Save Oaky Woods. “There were too many hunters in that area, and there was a lot of baiting going on.”

Trussell, a longtime hunter, contends that the state should switch to a quota system and perhaps shift the hunt back to December to protect more female bears.

Six bears were killed at a single hunt club.

“Anytime you get six bears on one property, that’s a lot,” DNR ranger Cpl. Robert Stillwell said.

Bond said the only time he has ever heard of bears congregating is around food sources.

Hunting bears over bait is a misdemeanor “of a high and aggravated nature.” DNR rangers issued six citations related to two bears killed by hunters who were using bait, Stillwell said.

He said next year there will be more rangers patrolling the hunt.

Georgia’s hunting rules are determined on a two-year cycle and won’t change before the hunt Nov. 10, 2012, said John Bowers, DNR’s assistant chief for game management. “We’re pleased with the harvest that was achieved. The number of females was a little higher than we would like, but is not of great concern to us.”