DNR makes first update to state's black bear management plan since 1980

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EAU CLAIRE COUNTY, Wis. (WEAU) -- To address Wisconsin’s growing black bear population, the Department of Natural Resources has approved a request to modify the state's black bear management plan.

Wisconsin's current management plan for black bear hasn't seen an update since 1980, nearly 40 years ago. State officials say since then, Wisconsin's black bear population has increased in number and expanded in range.

A local hunting expert agrees that some changes are needed as interest and participation in bear hunting is also rising. "Over the last few weeks we've found out that there's a lot more black bear in our area than we thought,” said Bill Candell, President of the Board of Directors at Westgate Sportsman Club.

There have been several recent sightings of black bear in the local area. On Tuesday, a black bear was spotted wondering around near Boyd Park in Eau Claire. Last week, a mother black bear was spotted in Lake Hallie, along with her three baby cubs.

Candell says he’s seen his fair share of black bears. "Out here at Westgate we've got a couple of bears out here even out south on II, County Highway F , there’s a couple of bears I’ve seen out there …so there's definitely a lot more black bear running around these days,” he said.

The state Natural Resources Board has approved a new 10-year plan for managing Wisconsin's black bear population. “There hasn't been any changes in 40 years. If the population was staying stagnant and pretty much even across the board then maybe no changes needed but if they're continuing to see the advanced growth of the black bear population, if they want to trim it then they need to give us more tags," said Candell

According to state data, there are about 26,000 bears in the state of Wisconsin. That's up from about 9,000 in the late 1980's. "You're seeing 2 and 3 and 4 cubs out of a thousand and for years we only saw one or two so I think with more food available, higher crops …there's just a lot of opportunity for the bears to flourish," said Candell.

Candell says black bear hunting is a growing sport and issuing more tags for bear hunting will help address the growing population.

The new management plan involves changing the number of bear management zones from four to six and addressing crop damage. It has also opened up a debate about expanding use of hounds for hunting.

As bear sightings become more common, officials are reminding people to keep trash and pet food away from your property as bears usually come around looking for a meal.

If you are experiencing problems with bears and are located in northern Wisconsin, please contact USDA Wildlife Services at 800-228-1368 (in-state) or 715-369-5221. In southern Wisconsin call 800-433-0663 (in-state) or 920-324-4514.